The term “laser” stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation and is a concentrated beam of light. Doctors have been using lasers to treat various medical conditions since the 1960s. Although they have been shown to be effective, lasers can actually cause adverse effects to both the target site and the surrounding healthy tissues. Luckily for patients, modern lasers can target a specific area without the risk of damaging other structures. One of the most important uses of lasers today is in the treatment of varicose veins.
Lasers are now being used to treat spider veins, reticular veins and varicose veins. What’s the difference between them?
- Spider Veins – Clusters of small vessels that often appear on the face.
- Reticular Veins – Refers to dilated blue or green vessels that are usually larger than spider veins.
- Varicose veins – The largest of the three veins. Varicose veins are deeper and larger veins usually seen in the lower extremities.
A laser device can treat all three types of veins by targeting and heating the affected vein. This causes a formation of scar tissue. The scar tissue closes the vein to cut off its blood supply. Without blood, the vein dies and eventually disappears after a year or two. Laser vein treatment can be either a simple or complicated treatment depending on the veins.
What is considered a simple laser vein treatment? It’s a non-invasive method for treating spider veins, reticular veins and some cases of small varicose veins. It utilizes the YAG (Yttrium-Aluminum-Garnet) laser that is also used for eye disorders, skin cancers and laser hair removal. It only targets veins that are close to the surface of the skin. At least one session is required to diminish the veins and the interval before a follow-up treatment is between 6 and 12 months.
Simple laser treatment is not recommended in cases where a larger vein feeds the smaller spider and reticular veins. In a case such as this, the feeder vein must be managed first via surgery, sclerotherapy (an injection of a salt solution directly into the vein) or endovenous laser treatment.
Endovenous laser treatment is more invasive in nature as it is designed to get rid of large varicose veins in the legs. A small thin tube called a catheter is inserted into the affected vein and is followed by a laser fiber. The doctor monitors the position of the laser fiber through an ultrasound screen. Once in position, the laser is activated to heat the vein and destroy it. This technique can be painful so local anesthetics or light sedatives may be necessary to make the patient comfortable.
Common side effects of both simple and more invasive laser treatments include pain, pigmentations and even some scarring. Any pain during the treatment should happen only while the affected area is being treated. Pigmentation, on the other hand, is brought about by hemosiderin (iron storage) within the vessel and/or melanin (the root that gives color to the skin) and it may or may not go away. A patient may opt for bleaching or chemical peels to help lighten the discoloration. Scarring depends on the amount of laser energy applied. Other side effects of laser vein treatment can include bleeding, bruising, infections and nerve damage. These side effects are mostly temporary and should go away without treatment.
Laser vein treatment produces permanent results as the vessels destroyed by the laser energy won’t come back. A retreatment procedure is optional and may be done only when new vessels form.