The doctors in our practice offer minimally invasive vein treatments. But, so often, we get asked about our medical specialty: what is an interventional radiologist? At the most basic level, it means we treat medical conditions such as spider veins and peripheral arterial disease with minimally invasive techniques.
Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t know how to perform more invasive procedures. After all, the doctors at our Houston and Dallas area vein clinics attended four years of medical school. Next, they completed four-year diagnostic radiology residencies and Interventional Radiology fellowships.
So, what’s the difference between our specialty and those of other doctors? Our goal as interventional radiologists is to offer less expensive, less invasive alternatives to surgery. And our procedures come with shorter recovery periods, less pain and lower risks of complications.
But what does an interventional radiology procedure look like? We’ll take a closer look in a moment. But first, we must explain the difference between spider and varicose veins.
Spider veins vs varicose veins: What’s the difference?
People use the terms spider veins and varicose veins interchangeably. But that’s a problem, since these similar concerns have important differences. (And they impact your ultimate treatment options!)
Here’s the story: both spider and varicose veins are enlarged because of pooling blood. They develop when something goes wrong in your body, causing your valves to fail and blood to pool. But here’s the difference. Varicose veins typically develop in larger veins that sit deeper within your legs. They won’t just change color, but they’ll likely bulge under your skin, possibly looking like they’re tangled or twisted. In contrast, spider veins usually impact your legs’ smaller, superficial veins (close to the skin’s surface.) And, rather than bulging, they simply change color, their darker shade becoming the reason they’re visible on your skin.
Also, spider veins usually don’t hurt. But varicose veins are often very painful. And, while minimally invasive vein treatments can work for both conditions, they’re really best suited for spider veins. Because varicose veins may need different interventions.
What is a minimally invasive vein treatment?
During an IR procedure, your interventional radiologist is guided by an image, such as that from an ultrasound. This gives us a live picture of less accessible parts of your body. Making just a small incision, we guide that image to the remote location in your body using a catheter. And that’s why your treatments don’t require major surgical incisions!
Interventional radiology procedures include:
Spider vein ablation
This out-patient procedure sends heat to your malfunctioning veins, using a small catheter that we insert to your vein. The high, controlled temperature permanently closes up the problem vein or veins. And it eliminates the appearance on your skin, while preventing vein disease progression.
Uterine fibroid embolization
This is a, out-patient, in-hospital, non-surgical procedure that effectively kills these tumors without an overnight hospital stay! First, we gain access to your uterine artery through the radial artery in your wrist. (We can also begin with the femoral artery in your thigh.) Then, as with vein ablation, we insert a catheter to your artery, working towards the uterine artery and your fibroid. Finally, we insert embolic material to block blood flow to the tumor, causing it to shrink and, eventually, disappear.
This is a great option for varicose veins that don’t look great, but aren’t showing signs that you’ve got serious vein disease. Essentially, this is a great cosmetic treatment. With liquid sclerotherapy, we inject your veins with an FDA-approved solution. It’s designed to irritate the inside lumen of your spider veins. And that irritation causes spider veins to gradually collapse and shrink, so your body reabsorbs them. You’ll need between three or four 30-minute treatments, spaced at least three weeks apart. But if you have multiple varicose veins, you may require even more injections.
We love this treatment option for a few reasons. You don’t feel any pain with the injections. It’s safe and effective. (While your veins may look worse right after treatment, you should notice fading and improvements between 4-6 weeks after your injections.)
Plus, your only post-procedure restrictions will be avoiding sun exposure for several days.
With sclerotherapy, most people can get right back to walking after treatment. (You’ll typically wait two days before getting cleared for strenuous activities.)
Now, there are some downsides to this treatment option. Some patients need multiple sessions before seeing complete results. In rare cases, you may develop skin discoloration after treatment. Also, if your visible veins are large, painful or break down the overlying skin, sclerotherapy may not be your best choice.
IPL vs Sclerotherapy
Patients who can’t tolerate sclerotherapy may have questions about IPL, or intense pulsed light treatments. Like sclerotherapy, this treatment is minimally invasive. But it’s only a cosmetic treatment, designed to reduce the appearance of spider veins without addressing their underlying causes. As such, this is really only a treatment option for improvements in the appearance of mild spider veins. However, it may cause scarring in people with darker skin. And it isn’t considered a treatment for vein disease. So it may not be your best option. Instead, you may need to combine treatments with leaky valve repairs. Plus, you may want to remove your troubled veins with treatments like phlebectomy, highlighted below.
This is a surgical procedure, but it’s still minimally invasive. Basically, when your bulging veins are located right under your skin, we can use local anesthetic, then make several tiny incisions in your leg. Through those incisions, we remove your bulging vein and, because the slits were so small, you won’t need stitches and any scarring will be minimal. Plus, six months after your procedure, any marks should disappear entirely!
There are so many more ways we can address your vein health challenges without invasive surgery. But we want you to understand why that’s such a big deal for your overall health. So please keep reading to find out why you should explore minimally invasive vein treatments.
Interventional Radiology vs. Surgery: What’s the Benefit?
As we mentioned, IR procedures hurt less than surgeries. They are less likely to leave a scar and, thanks to image guidance, are often more precise than surgical procedures.
Many times, they can be performed with no overnight hospital stays. And no hospital stay means less out-of-pocket expenses for most patients!
So, does less pain, less cost, less risk and more accuracy sounds like what you’re looking for in a vein treatment? If so, you’ve come to the right place. Simply schedule a consultation with one of our highly trained Interventional Radiologists to learn if you are a good candidate for our treatment protocols.
Sources: Radiology Info