Varicose veins often appear as unsightly, bulging lines on the legs. The condition develops when the valves that keep blood from pooling in the veins stop functioning properly. Besides being an aesthetic issue, these damaged veins can cause a number of uncomfortable symptoms. Itching, aching, burning, tingling, and other sensations often accompany the development of vein problems. Laser therapy is one frequently recommended treatment option for closing varicose veins. However, radiofrequency ablation (RF) is also being investigated for its ability to offer similar results with fewer post-operative side effects.
Dotter Interventional Institute Study
Results have been released for an initial head to head trial of laser vs. RF at a Portland medical research facility. The 69 women in the study generally had class 2 varicose veins (larger than spider veins) and were primarily seeking treatment for symptom relief rather than cosmetic purposes. The patients were randomly assigned to receive either laser treatment or RF. They were fitted with protective goggles and the machine used to treat them was shielded from view. So, the patients could not identify which type of treatment they received.
Patients had less pain and tenderness after treatment with radiofrequency ablation than those who received laser treatment. They also found that their skin experienced less discoloration from post procedure bleeding. The rate of adverse events reported for RF was less than 5% compared to 22% for laser therapy patients. The actual effectiveness for closing the varicose veins was similar for both treatments at the one month mark. Further follow up and additional trials will be needed to establish whether RF continues to be effective at keeping treated blood vessels from re-growing in the long term.
Why the Difference?
Radiofrequency and laser ablation both use heat to damage the inner linings of the blood vessels and close varicose veins. However, the ClosureFAST RF device does this by targeting the collagen in the wall of the blood vessel. Lasers work more indirectly by heating hemoglobin in the blood itself. This high temperature causes steam bubbles to form and burst in the vein. In some cases, the process may cause perforation of the vein walls. The difference in how the treatments work may be the reason one is less painful than the other. However, some newer lasers on the market are designed to minimize the excessive heating and perforation problems linked to the lasers used in this study. So, patients may have a variety of options for reducing their risk of post-operative discomfort in varicose vein treatment.