Ideal for treating small to medium-sized varicose veins, sclerotherapy is a minimally invasive, nonsurgical medical procedure that involves an injection of foam directly into the varicose vein. The injection clears blood from the varicose vein and irritates the lining of the vein wall, causing it to stick together. In time, the vein turns to scar tissue and fades from view.
Covered by most health insurance providers and Medicare, sclerotherapy typically is performed in less than 30 minutes. The procedure is virtually painless; a local anesthetic is used to numb the area where the varicose vein is located.
After the procedure, if indications appear normal, patients are immediately cleared to return home or work — there's no downtime. In fact, some patients choose to undergo the procedure during their lunch hour.
Diagnosing Varicose Veins and Preparing for Sclerotherapy
To determine whether a patient is a candidate for sclerotherapy, a John C. Lincoln physician will perform a physical examination, take the patient's medical history and ask the patient whether he or she has experienced varicose vein symptoms.
While this is taking place, the patient will be sitting on an examination table, with the affected leg dangling over the edge. Within minutes, this simple test will accentuate the appearance of varicose veins.
Sclerotherapy is not recommended for patients who:
- Have experienced an allergic reaction to the proposed injection foam or solution.
- Have acute deep vein thrombosis.
- Are pregnant or are breastfeeding.
- Are unable to walk.
- Have an atrial septal defect, or hole in the heart.
Leading up to treatment, a physician will arrange for an ultrasound examination to be performed by a John C. Lincoln medical imaging specialist who has had extensive training in varicose veins. In ultrasound, a small, handheld transducer is placed on the skin over the varicose vein. The transducer emits sound waves, which bounce off the vein. These waves are converted into images of the varicose vein. The test helps to determine the severity of venous insufficiency and the size of associated varicose veins.
Post-Procedure Guidance and Recovery
The full recovery process for sclerotherapy usually spans several weeks. Immediately after the procedure, patients are asked to walk for 30 minutes daily and avoid sun exposure — including tanning booths — for four weeks.
A follow-up ultrasound examination will be scheduled for two weeks after the procedure, to determine whether veins are healing appropriately and confirm whether additional treatments will not be needed.
Varicose veins will begin to fade from view two weeks following the procedure. Patients also will experience mild bruising on the affected leg. However, bruising begins to fade two to three weeks after treatment.
Success Rate and Potential Complications
Performed at John C. Lincoln in combination with radiofrequency vein ablation, sclerotherapy has proven to be a remarkably effective and safe technique for patients who suffer from varicose veins.
Approximately two-thirds of our patients require just one sclerotherapy treatment. For the remaining third of our patients, a follow-up treatment may be needed to treat a varicose vein that was not perceptible prior to initial treatment.
Rarely do patients experience little or no benefit from the procedure.
Potential complications of sclerotherapy include ulcers, blisters and discoloration of the skin; thromboplebitis (vein swelling) or deep vein thrombosis; incomplete closure of the vein; allergic reaction; transient visual loss, telangiectatic matting (small dilated blood vessels that cause a blushing appearance around the treatment area).