Laser Ablation

Aim of Treatment

Ultrasound guided sclerotherapy with Coil Occlusion or Laser Ablation is a further development of standard sclerotherapy (Injection treatment, also known as “Echosclerotherapy” or “Foam Echosclerotherapy”) of lower limb varicose veins.

This treatment is designed as an alternative to surgery for varicose veins previously only manageable by surgery.

The aim is to obliterate defective veins inside the leg that are flowing in the wrong direction. The ultrasound machine enables the Surgeon to see defective veins and thus guide the treatment. Successful elimination of defective (refluxing) veins results in a decrease in the workload of the remaining normal veins in the limb.

Because ultrasound guided injections alone are not very successful for long term clearance of varicose veins Coil and/or Laser insertion is required for a long lasting result.

  • The largest vein that can be managed by sclerotherapy technology alone is 4mm in diameter.
  • The largest vein that is treatable by the Coil or Laser technology is 15-20 mm.
  • Generally veins greater than 15 mm in diameter are still best managed by Surgery.

Laser Ablation

To treat larger varicose veins on a more permanent basis heat from a specifically designed Laser destroys the defective veins. This is as effective as surgery in achieving elimination of varices.

This technology has been used over the last 10 years with increasing safety and effectiveness. The third generation Laser devices now offer much less discomfort than surgery. This new technology allows for a greater proportion of people with varicose veins to be treated by non surgical means with no hospital stay, a shorter period of discomfort and an earlier return to normal activity.

Laser technology is not as suitable as other techniques for recurrent varicose veins. Suitability for Laser treatment is determined by ultrasound scanning.

Side Effects and Risks

A sclerosing agent is always used for treatment with Laser or Coils and is of a higher concentration than that used for surface veins. Therefore the chances of side effects are greater. The most common side effect is a cough.

Side Effects (Transient)

Pain: Pain occurs on injection of local anaesthetic and sclerosant in the form of a stinging sensation. When the vein wall leaks sclerosant into the tissue this pain can be uncomfortable. Normally this resolves with no untoward event. Persisting pain usually indicates difficulties with the process and should be reported. For Laser treatments about 5 injections of local anaesthetic are required in the thigh to prevent pain from the heat of the Laser. If treatment is under anaesthesia then no pain occurs.

Swelling: Because the obliteration process involves inflammation, swelling can occur in the injected limb for up to 6 weeks.

Cough: A cough may occur, with or without a feeling of tightness in the chest, which resolves in 10-15 minutes. This can delay your departure after treatment.

Migraine: A migraine headache, unusual tingling or numbness of a limb or visual aura may occur but these resolve quickly. The sensation of numbness or weakness on one side of the body can last up to 15 minutes. No permanent complications have been documented.

Fainting: Injection of the vein, stimulating nerve endings in the vein wall or the agent itself can cause a feeling of faintness associated with what is known as a vaso-vagal response. If severe it will be treated with an injection of Atropine which restores your blood pressure and heart rate to normal. You will however notice blurred vision for about twenty minutes. This reaction is a very common one following any form of painful stimulus. Just the sight of a needle is sometimes enough to make some people experience this phenomenon.

Major Risks

Ulceration, infection or deep vein thrombosis are risks of the procedures. An ulcer after this treatment is rare but, if this does occur, it can be large and painful requiring hospitalization and possible skin grafting. Although not seen in this Practice it has been reported by other proceduralists. The chance of disabling ulceration is 1:5000 patient treatment sessions. People who have had previous ulcers from their varicose veins seem to be predisposed to this complication.

Deep vein thrombosis Does not require hospital admission as the new drugs are very effective but must be introduced quickly. The risk is less than 1:5000.

Infection requiring treatment has an incidence of 1:3000 treatments. People with ulcers or damaged skin are most likely to suffer this complication and it would require administration of antibiotics.

No hospitalization has been required for infection or deep vein thrombosis after Laser in this Practice.

The use of occlusion coils for larger vessels has dramatically reduced the incidence of side effects from injection treatment. There is also the additional benefit of reducing the total dose of sclerosing agent as well as reducing the risk of ulceration as a complication.

The risk of coils moving from the original placement site during treatment is considered to be negligible but tangible. Loss of a coil during the actual procedure, however, would require removal of the coil by x-ray control through a catheter in the vein under local anaesthetic. Surgery to remove an incorrectly placed coil should rarely be required and would consist only of a tiny incision under local anaesthetic performed at the time of the procedure.

Laser treatment can damage the adjacent nerves and cause “neuralgia” which results in numbness and occasional shooting pains. This complication resolves with time, is rarely permanent and is less common than with surgery.

Treatment – What you need to know

There are no special requirements beforehand except that you should wear warm clothes loose enough to go over the legs after the application of bandages. Warmth is helpful in dilating the veins so over dress or walk briskly before your visit.

The treatment itself is usually not too uncomfortable apart from the needle insertions and local anaesthetic injections. Inhalation of an analgesic (Penthrox) is available to lessen discomfort however, if you use this agent, you may not drive a vehicle afterwards for 12 hours. If requested a general anaesthetic can be administered but this requires a hospital admission for a few hours.

Usually a fine tube is threaded into the vein to deliver the coil, laser heat and sclerosant. You may be able to feel the tip of the catheter moving inside the leg but this is not a painful sensation.

Once the coils have been placed the sclerosant is introduced and you will feel some stinging in the surface varicose veins as they vanish. Several additional needle insertions are usually required to obliterate remaining veins on the surface. With Laser treatment extra injections of local anaesthetic are required in the thigh and some pain may be experienced with the heat. Laser ablation of veins requires a larger amount of local anaesthetic (up to 10 injections) along the course of the vein so “Penthrox” inhalation is useful.

After treatment with any of the modalities, and following injection of sclerosant, cotton wool balls and adhesive tape are applied to the injection sites. You will then be placed in compression bandages. These cover the cotton wool balls and compress the treated veins. You should leave these bandages intact for at least 8-12 hours.

After treatment you should walk at least 200 – 500 metres to help circulate blood through the deeper veins of the limb. This should be repeated a few times over the next few hours.

Bandages: Following application of compression bandages you will be given instructions as to exactly how long to wear them. Normally you will wear the compression bandages until the following morning. You must remove the bandages and then shower and remove the cotton wool balls and adhesive tape from the limb. (Removal of the cotton wool and adhesive tape is essential within 12-24 hours to prevent skin blisters). Following the shower you should re-apply the bandages to compress the legs (not the thighs) for a further few days. This period may be shorter and you will be advised accordingly.

The purpose of the bandages is to try to compress the vein walls together so that there is very little trapped blood. Without compression the veins tend to be big and bulky when solidified and thus they take longer to absorb. Sometimes the thigh bandages tend to unravel. If so, they can be left off but bandages below the knee should be reapplied. If the bandage is too painful then it should be loosened a little or reapplied more comfortably.

After Treatment

There will be some tendency for the ankles or legs to swell. Any dramatic increase in swelling should be reported to Mr. Milne. An unusual degree of pain following treatment should also be reported. There is no limitation on your activity following treatment and you should carry on all your normal sporting and work related activities. Discomfort usually settles with analgesia such as Panadeine.

In the weeks following treatment swelling of the ankles will settle, if it has occurred at all. You will feel some hard lumpy areas where the veins have solidified. These become tender as the absorption process gets under way. The veins will become red and inflamed as part of the absorption process. Simple anti inflammatory agents such as Aspirin, Nurofen or Naprogesic may be used.

When the veins are completely absorbed (usually within six months) there may be some brown staining left on the surface of the skin. This goes away slowly with time, sometimes as long as 2 years. The coils are virtually impalpable and are not visible except on x-ray. The veins will disappear as completely as they would have with surgical treatment.

The Coils (if Used)

The devices commonly called “coils” are made either of chrome alloy and polyester or platinum and polyester. The devices used for this treatment are T.G.A. approved for use in Australia and have a long documented history of safe deployment. Like surgical clips they are inert after implantation.

There is a very small risk of infection (less than 1:10,000) with these devices. Infection would require removal of the coil, normally under local anaesthetic.

After treatment the coils are visible on plain x-ray and appear very much like surgical clips commonly used for abdominal surgery. They will not trigger a metal detection device such as those used at airports. They are MRI compatible for MRI scanning. These coils, once implanted, are completely inert with less than 1:10,000 rejection rate.

Treatment Comparison

COMPARISON Hospital Time Procedure Time Anaesthetic Discomfort
Surgery 1-2 days 1-2 hours General/Spinal 2-6 weeks
Laser/Coils 1-2 hours 20-40 minutes Local 1-2 weeks

Permanence: Surgery is normally 95% effective in removing large veins for up to 10 years. Laser treatment appears reliable at 5 years. Small surface veins recur with time after either treatment and can be managed with sclerotherapy in the office. Recurrence of varicose veins in the calf is not uncommon after either surgical or coil treatment and is usually managed by further injection treatment.
Many patients are permanently free of major varicose veins after laser ablation but it is usual to have some form of recurrence in the future. Most recurrent veins are managed by injection treatment or under ultrasound guidance in the office.

Brown Discolouration: This occurs after blood is absorbed from destroyed veins after either surgery or injection/coil treatment. It is more common and more intense after non-surgical techniques. Fading time is longer for darker skin than light skin and can take as long as two years. Most fading occurs in 6 months.

Lumps and Bruising: These occur after any form of treatment but lumpiness, redness and bruising can take 6-8 weeks after injection treatment compared to 2-4 weeks for surgery.

Any difficulties with treatment should be reported immediately by phone to this Practice, not your local doctor. The result of your treatment, and/or significant complications, must be reviewed by Mr Milne before you can be discharged to your referring medical officer.


Our office will issue an estimate for your treatment. Substantial gaps between your fund rebate and Mr. Milne’s fee may occur and this will be shown on your quote. Rebates vary between fealth funds so your out of pocket cost is fund dependant. Laser treatment is more expensive at present as the rebates from insurers does not reflect costs of the equipment. Charges for ultrasound, anaesthetic and assistant services are additional to your procedure costs.

Radiofrequency Ablation is also available for large veins.
Generally, laser is a smaller device and more manoeuvrable which makes it the preferred option.