Phillip Levin, MD, a surgeon at Cedars-Sinai, is one of the first vascular surgeons in Southern California to use a new radiofrequency ablation catheter to treat varicose veins.

"The operating time with the new catheter is less than half of what it was with the earlier generation catheter," says Levin. "Operating time with the previous catheter could take as long as 45 minutes to an hour. The same procedure now takes 15 to 20 minutes to complete and the 98% success rate is the same."

The catheter allows the surgeon to treat the vein in 7 cm segments without having to withdraw and reposition it between segments, making the procedure less labor intensive for the surgeon. Patients are usually discharged from the hospital’s outpatient surgery center the same day.

During the procedure, Levin inserts a small catheter into the saphenous vein via a needle stick under ultrasound guidance. The catheter delivers radiofrequency heat to the vein wall, causing it to shrink and close. Once the vein collapses, blood is rerouted to other healthy veins. Levin says that usually, no stitches are needed.

After the procedure is completed, Levin wraps the patient’s leg in a thick ace-type bandage that needs to be worn for 2 to 3 days. As soon as the patient recovers from the IV sedation, they’re cleared to leave the hospital. Some return to work the same day—the only restriction they’re given is to avoid running or bouncing for about 10 days.

Previous treatments for varicose veins, such as "stripping," required general anesthesia, an extended hospital stay, a lengthy recovery, and significant swelling, bruising, and pain. Patients treated with the new catheter report minimal pain and bruising.

[www.medicalnewstoday.com, October 4, 2007]