Are lasers a safe way to treat varicose veins?

By: Aida Duncan

Simple laser treatments for varicose veins involve applying laser-focused heat to the problem area, while endovenus laser treatments are more invasive. See more pictures of skin problems.
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Some skin conditions are unsightly but not physically painful. Others may hurt, but they don't look so bad. Varicose veins -- those enlarged, twisted veins visible beneath the surface of the skin -- unfortunately can be both.

Generally blue or purple in color, varicose veins most often appear on the legs and ankles. Though they do not always hurt, many people do experience aching, swelling, cramping and itching around the raised veins [sources: Mayo Clinic, WebMD].


To understand the treatments, it is important to know what causes varicose veins in first place. Varicose veins result from circulatory problems. Your veins carry blood from various parts of your body back to your heart. The muscles in your legs squeeze your veins, pushing the blood up toward your heart. Valves stop the blood from following the pull of gravity back toward your feet. When the valves wear out or struggle under too much pressure -- due to age, weight, pregnancy and extended periods of time on your feet -- then blood gets trapped and enlarges the veins [sources: Mayo Clinic, WebMD].

Treatment options work to alleviate pressure on the legs and get trapped blood moving. People can take steps on their own by exercising, elevating their legs, losing weight and wearing compression socks that squeeze the legs and help blood move. If these methods fail, you might want to consider one of two laser treatments -- the simple laser treatment or the endovenous laser treatment [source: Mayo Clinic].

The simple laser treatment, a non-invasive method, applies laser-focused heat to the problem area. The more invasive endovenous laser treatment inserts a laser fiber into the vein through a thin tube. Studies have shown that simple laser treatment works well for small veins, though you might need more than one treatment. Endovenous laser therapy has proven effective for larger varicose veins [source: WebMD].

Both methods are generally safe overall, but they do carry potential risks. Laser treatment can result in skin burns or discoloration, both of which are temporary, as well as nerve damage and blood clotting. You should discuss any concerns and potential complications with your physician. Overall, the risks and side effects of laser treatment for varicose veins are less than those for another common treatment: surgical stripping of the veins [source: Nabili]. Still, you might want to avoid laser treatment unless the veins become painful or pose a significant cosmetic problem.

For more information on treating skin problems, follow the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Essig, Maria G. WebMD. "Laser Treatment for Varicose Veins." WebMD. February 11, 2008. (Accessed 9/13/09)
  • Mayo Clinic. "Varicose Veins." January 16, 2009. (Accessed 9/29/09)
  • Nabili, Siamak. "Varicose Veins and Spider Veins." Medicine Net. (Accessed 9/29/09)
  • National Women's Health Information Center. "Varicose Veins and Spider Veins." Women's Health. December 1, 2005. (Accessed 9/13/09)
  • WebMD. "Varicose Veins: Topic Overview." February 11, 2008. (Accessed 9/13/09)