Frothy foam helps patients with vein issues

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They’re not only unsightly, bulging veins in the legs can cause great discomfort and lead to skin ulcers and hard-to-treat wounds. Now a frothy foam is helping to shut down the problem vessels.

Dr Romi Chopra, interventional radiologist: “You start seeing pipes under your skin.”

What should be a thin, straight line stretches and expands – the result of a leaky valve in the vein. When the valve fails, blood backs up and pressure builds.

Dr Chopra: “Our calves are like a second heart so people who sit for long, stand for long, don’t use their calf pump, the pressure starts to rise and the valves fail. The segment of the vein that is damaged is not useable anymore, and blood is just sitting in there.”

Frank, varicose vein patient: “It’s lightened up a lot.”

For a chef who’s on his feet for long stretches, the painful effects of his varicose veins are an unwelcome guest in his kitchen.

Frank, varicose vein patient: “It’s the discomfort, not just to look at it, but I know down the line if I didn’t get it taken care of there could be more problems.”

Dr Chopra: “So I’m doing an ultrasound first to map out the veins that are leaking.”

Doctors use lasers and injections to treat varicose veins. Interventional radiologist Romi Chopra uses foam.

Dr Chopra: “Right there the blood is flowing back freely. That’s where the valve is broken. That is supposed to be 2 millimeters. It’s over 15 millimeters.”

He places an IV line inside the enlarged vein. Unlike a liquid, the bubbly foam covers more surface area.

Dr Chopra: “It’s marinating the inside of the wall.”

But it doesn’t stick around for long … the foam contains polidocanol, a drug that quickly acts to destroy the inner lining of the vein.

Dr Chopra: “It denatures a protein in the cells and kills the cells. And that vein scars down, immediately collapses. But then over time scars down into a little thread. It’s now just the white line. That’s the foam sitting in there. It’s already shrunk down.”

Frank has been undergoing foam treatments with Dr Chopra for two years now.

Frank: “Seems like my legs have been lighter. They don’t swell as much.”

Dr Chopra: “It’s incredibly safe. If the injection gets into the body, into the deep circulation, the oxygen and the carbon dioxide absorb it completely.”

But there can be side effects -- including allergic reaction and blood clots. The cost of the Varithena foam procedure – which is newer to the United States but not Europe -- is about $2,000 and may be covered by insurance.

Dr Chopra is the medical director at the Midwest Institute of Minimally Invasive Therapies. You can learn more at: http://themimit.com/pages/about/about.php