Walking without pain; Today’s treatment for varicose veins less invasive

Today, Dale Ann Williams of Hollidaysburg, 68, is feeling great.

Last year, that wasn’t the case for the mother of five and grandmother of 11 who suffers from varicose veins.

“There were times I had to crawl up the steps. It was very difficult to get in and out of the bathtub, or go up and down the steps or even walk,” she said.

Williams has received treatment for her varicose veins twice from Dr. David C. Faber, who is now with Advanced Vein & Laser Center, Duncansville.

The first was about five or six years ago when she was suffering from blood clots and the second was last year, when she started having “a lot of pain and pressure in my calves, especially,” she said.

Many people are at risk for varicose veins, which Faber said are the “blue ropey veins” in one’s legs. Spider veins, “the little red veins in the skin” are a form of varicose veins, he said.

Risk factors for varicose veins include a family history, pregnancy and obesity. Women are more likely to get varicose veins.

Symptoms of varicose veins include tired, heavy, achy and swollen legs, he said.

Varicose veins are not just a cosmetic concern, but can indicate something more is going on below the skin’s surface, Faber said.

He said he performed more leg amputations as a general surgeon for advanced venous disease than for any other cause.

“Everyone says, ‘Oh, well, they must have had diabetes. They must of [had] something else,’ but venous disease is often ignored until it gets out of control and then we don’t have any options,” Faber said.

Treatment of varicose veins has improved over the years, especially with the advancement of ultrasound technology, which has allowed doctors to see how a vein functions, Faber said.

Procedures such as endovenous ablation, which scars the vein closed and forces blood to seek out other veins, are less invasive and recovery time is minimal, he said.

Medical director of UPMC Altoona Vascular Institute Dr. Artie DeMarsico, who is with the Cardiovascular & Thoracic Surgery of Altoona Inc., said their patients are first evaluated and put on a three-month trial period to see if increased exercise, weight loss and compression therapy help improve their symptoms. They then look for blood clots and refluxing veins.

Finally, a treatment plan is developed based on the findings, he said.

“Before proceeding with treatment, patients must undergo a specialized ultrasound exam of the legs,” Faber said. “This shows me the function and layout of the veins. An office visit for a complete evaluation and education of venous disease is done prior to planning and treating all patients. They need to have been wearing compression stockings also.”

Compression therapy, which is when a patient wears a stocking on one leg or legs to improve circulation, is still the necessary treatment today with or without the newer procedures for varicose veins, Faber said. The stocking choices have also improved over the years.

An old procedure for varicose veins was to pull the vein out, which was “very painful, debilitating” and had a long recovery time, Faber said.

“With these procedures, you walk in, you walk out, in an office setting, and there’s minimal to no down time. The day after the procedure, I usually ask patients to kind of take it easy, maybe a half a day of work. But day two, you can do anything you want. Now, if you’re doing heavy strenuous manual labor or high impact exercise or aerobics, I ask people to take it easy for about a week, but otherwise there’s practically no pain with it and it just plain works,” Faber said.

Since Williams’ first procedure, which she said was “very successful,” to the last, her ankles have shrunk three quarters of an inch, she said.

Today, she has her freedom back and is living an active lifestyle, including exercising, she said.

“It has been … amazing results because it relieved the pressure and the soreness and tenderness, and I’m just really pleased with it,” she said of her most recent procedures.

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Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.