With the development of minimally invasive procedures over the past decade, surgeons now have a new option for treating varicose veins. "For patients who don't get good relief from wearing compression stockings alone, the VNUS catheter is a new ultrasound-based treatment modality," Dalman said.
During the past five years, the VNUS catheter has been fine-tuned, resulting in a faster, improved procedure. "It's all done through a needle puncture at the knee," Dalman said. "The catheter is inserted, guided by ultrasound all the way up a vein, then heated with radiofrequency energy and slowly pulled back out. As the catheter is withdrawn, it cauterizes the vein from the inside and collapses it completely."
Local anesthesia is used during the procedure, which takes about an hour. "We've transitioned the procedure out of the operating room, into the clinic," Dalman said. "Patients need a ride home afterward, but they can return to work the next day." That contrasts with a roughly two-week recovery required after vein stripping.
"With VNUS catheterization, there are no incisions, typically no post-op pain medication and the procedural risks are very low," Dalman said.
VNUS closure is not right for every patient. It cannot be used if there has been previous clotting in the veins and may not be appropriate for advanced cases, Dalman said. "VNUS is ideal for early treatment of varicosities," he said.
After trying the compression stockings, which Cheng likened to pulling on the bottom half of a wetsuit every morning, she opted for the VNUS procedure. "I had to take it easy for about three days afterward, but I could still stand up and walk around," she said. "Overall, it was a very easy experience."
The pain and fatigue in her leg disappeared, said Cheng, now a nurse coordinator in Stanford Hospital's Heart Center. "Cosmetically, it's also back to normal," she said. "You can only see the puncture site if you're looking for it."