Gluing Veins Shut Can Help Treat Varicose Veins

When it comes to vein treatments, Rochelle Peterman has been through it all.

She’s had venous insufficiency, also known as venous reflux, for decades after having children. “It can get very painful—throbbing, aching, a lot of swelling, a feeling of heaviness when you’re moving around,” she explained.

The condition occurs when the valves in the veins don’t work properly. Instead of taking all of the blood back to the heart, the faulty veins cause blood to head in the wrong direction, leading to pressure in the veins, widened veins and pain. A trademark symptom is the snake-like shape of varicose veins. But beside their unpleasant appearance, Rochelle knew it was a priority to work with doctors for health reasons. “It’s a true medical condition that you want to have addressed because it can lead to a lot of complication if you don’t.”

Rochelle tried a few treatments, including bilateral stripping to remove some of the major veins and sclerotherapy. Unfortunately, none had durable results. Thankfully, she was willing to try another treatment—VenaSeal, a procedure that actually glues veins shut.

“The substance is a version of super glue–the same substance that has been developed for other medical purposes, such as deep cuts in the emergency room, ” explained John Fish, MD, FSVM, FACP, a vascular medicine physician with Jobst Vascular Institute. A higher thickness (viscosity) of the glue helps it work in the veins, along with applying pressure from the outside (by pressing on the skin), which allows the glue to set. The procedure’s effectiveness is very high, in the greater than 90% range, said Dr. Fish.

Rochelle is part of that 90%.

“I can’t say enough good about it,” she said. “They did a local anesthetic on the back of my left calf. I felt a little pinch of the catheter go in. After that it was smooth sailing.” On the day of Rochelle’s procedure, she couldn’t drive and needed to keep her leg elevated for about an hour or so at a time. She also needed to be walking around. But by the next day, it was life as usual.

“I was able to go about the tasks of daily living by day two,” said Rochelle. “There was no incision, just a tiny scab where they put the catheter.”

Dr. Fish agreed that there is typically isn’t much pain with the procedure. “We are basically starting a line, like an IV, in the calf region. The wire goes up and from there; there really isn’t a lot of pain,” he described.

“In the past, we had to make multiple injections of fluid that goes around the vein,” he said. “So we had the wire inside the vein, and we had to inject from the outside to put a halo of fluid around the vein so we could turn on an energy source such as a laser or radio frequency probe that caused the vein to shut. In this case, we don’t have to do this; that step is eliminated.”

According to Dr. Fish, there aren’t a lot of known side effects from the VenaSeal glue itself, either. “These procedures where we shut veins do carry a less than 1% risk of a clot that can form at the end where we start in the groin, for example,” he said. “It’s a low percentage, but we usually have everybody come back for an ultrasound just to check in case that happens.”

Venous insufficiency can present itself, as it did in Rochelle’s case, after pregnancy because the veins widen when you are pregnant and the uterus puts added pressure on the veins. Hereditary factors can also contribute to the condition, but Dr. Fish said that even people without a family history can develop venous insufficiency from the work they do or from being on their feet all the time. Conservative treatments, such as compression socks aren’t always enough to help the swelling and pain if venous insufficiency is more advanced.

“There’s so much blood flow going in the wrong direction in the vein because of faulty valves,” explained Dr. Fish.

That’s where treatments like VenaSeal come in. Rochelle was a little nervous about the procedure at first, but is now glad she did it. “There is no pain in my leg; no heaviness,” she said.

Have questions about vein conditions and treatment options?

Learn more