Chris S. did what a lot of men would do when he experienced some minor pain, itching, and bulging veins in his leg – he just lived with the discomfort and went on with his life, hoping it would eventually pass. But after more than 10 years, the 47-year-old systems engineer from San Diego realized he couldn’t ignore his worsening symptoms any longer. Not only was he unable to endure the unbearable itching and pain, the large veins behind his right knee had grown to the size of a fist.
“My job involves a lot of standing and walking on hard surfaces, which only aggravated my symptoms,” said Chris. “The more I was on my feet, the more pain I experienced, and it really started to affect my quality of life.”
After conducting his own research on local specialists who could diagnose and treat his problem, Chris scheduled a consultation with Leland Housman, MD, a general and cardiothoracic surgeon who runs the Vein Clinic at Scripps Clinic Carmel Valley.
“When Chris first came in he had pain, achiness, itching and swelling in his legs, with wounds that were red and at risk for infection because he was unable to keep from scratching,” said Dr. Housman. “Even more striking were his huge, tense veins – some of the largest I’ve ever seen in my career.”
Dr. Housman diagnosed Chris with an advanced stage of venous insufficiency, a condition where the veins are unable to return blood from the legs back to the heart. The blood often pools in the legs, causing pain, swelling and other symptoms. In Chris’s case, blood flow in his right leg was so severely restricted he began to fear the leg might have to be amputated.
Chris was relieved to learn his condition could be treated with a series of simple, minimally invasive procedures spread out over a couple of months, starting in February 2009.
First, Dr. Housman performed a procedure called endovenous laser treatment, which uses a laser to collapse the insufficient veins and seal them shut, permanently rerouting blood flow. Within a few weeks, the bulbous growth behind Chris’s knee had shrunk dramatically.
Chris’s second treatment, called injection-compression sclerotherapy, helped minimize and fade the veins in Chris’s lower leg. During the procedure, a solution injected directly into the vein causes the vein walls to stick together and seal shut.
Finally, some lingering veins were removed during a procedure called ambulatory phlebectomy, in which varicose veins located on the surface of the leg are removed through incisions so tiny they heal on their own without any need for stitches.
“I was surprised at how easy the procedures were,” said Chris. “Not only were they quick outpatient appointments that didn’t require anesthesia, but I didn’t have any pain during or after. And the treatments have made a tremendous difference – my leg looks normal again, but more importantly the pain, itching, and swelling have gone away.”
According to Dr. Housman, the standard treatment for venous insufficiency just a couple of years ago was surgery—and even today, for a case as severe as Chris’s, many vascular surgeons may have recommended surgical treatments ranging from painful “vein stripping” (removing the vein entirely), to venous valve repair, to vein transplant. Fortunately today’s minimally-invasive treatments produce dramatic results with very little pain, minimal scarring, and no down time.
“If I could tell other people with similar vein problems one thing, it’s that they don’t have any reason to be nervous about the treatment,” said Chris. “I think the Vein Clinic at Scripps Clinic is one of the top places in the country, not just because they offer the most up-to-date technology but because Dr. Housman and his support staff were excellent. I felt informed and comfortable throughout the entire process.”