AUSTIN -- It's commonly perceived as a cosmetic flaw that affects women. However, doctors say if left untreated, varicose veins can develop into a serious medical problem, especially in the 20 percent of men who also suffer from the condition.
New minimally invasive techniques are allowing vascular surgeons to correct the problem once and for all.
Gary Tucker, 57, visited Dr. Chris Brennig's office to get treatment for varicose veins.
"It's just a constant ache and pain," said Tucker.
"The most common problem that people have when they experience varicose veins is a loss of function or integrity of the valves within the vein," said Brennig, a vascular surgeon at the Austin Vein Institute. "These valves are extremely elegant and effective and efficient ways to prevent the reversal of blood flow backwards down the leg."
Brennig said once the valves within the veins begin to fail, it's a chronic, ongoing condition.
The pressure within the vein is abnormal and the veins become enlarged and the pressure eventually pushes into the next vein and the next vein. It becomes a domino effect down the leg damaging more and more veins.
Dr. Chris Brennig
"The pressure within the vein is abnormal and the veins become enlarged and the pressure eventually pushes into the next vein and the next vein," he said. "It becomes a domino effect down the leg, damaging more and more veins."
Tucker was just a teenager when his varicose veins became a problem. He went in for surgery a few years later.
"I remember it like it was yesterday," said Tucker. "I had surgery on my left leg in 1980. I went back in 1982 for my right leg when it was actually stripping off the veins."
The stripping required major surgery done at a hospital with a two- to three-week recovery period, and it was far from perfect.
"Patients who have gone through previous typically stripping 10, 20, 30 years ago were often left behind with residual varicose veins under the surface of the skin that were not able to be identified at that time," said Brennig.
"That's what happened to Tucker and what led him to Brennig, who uses the latest ultrasound and minimally invasive laser and radio frequency catheters that gently heat the inside of the veins causing them to slowly shrink and dissolve into the body.
Tucker said he can't believe how simple, pain-free and effective the new varicose vein treatment is compared to what he experienced three decades ago.
"I was fully expecting to have to request time off of work, because I just figured there would be a lot of down time," he said. "When he told me the first time you can go on back to work, and I literally did, so it was, like, amazing what's changed."
Brennig said most patients need anywhere from two to four treatments depending on the severity of the problem. Most insurance plans cover the cost of those treatments because the medical community recognizes varicose veins is a health problem that can get worse if left untreated.
Spider Veins, which are purely a cosmetic flaw are not covered by insurance, said Brennig.
Click here for a link to the Austin Vein Institute.