SNMH Staff

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April 16, 2013
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Varicose vein procedure gets patients back on their feet

Whether it’s fair or not, one of the basic risk factors for developing varicose veins is merely growing older. Veins simply lose their elasticity and valves weaken.

Not much can be done about that, but Drs. Michael Hallenbeck and Robert Crockett, diagnostic radiologists at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, can at least do something about those veins, from the bluish, spider-like displays found on legs or cheeks to the swollen and knotted appearance of varicose veins that can present more than cosmetic concerns.

The two oversee the SNMH Vein and Vascular Center located in the hospital’s Diagnostic Imaging Center since last August.

“We diagnose and treat vascular disease of the legs, which is extremely common and can be very debilitating,” Dr. Hallenbeck explained. “Dysfunction of the arteries or veins can cause severe pain, swelling and ulcer formation, ultimately putting the patient at risk for loss of limb.”

The center primarily treats people with moderate to severe venous disease, which includes painful varicose veins, bleeding of clotted varicose veins, leg swelling and aching, skin discoloration and venous ulcers, he said.

“Vein disease is extremely common,” Dr. Hallenbeck noted. “Most people put up with the aching, fatigue and heaviness they experience, not realizing that there are minimally invasive treatments available. We can help.”

At the center, specially trained staff use ultrasound technology to check for blood clots and assess blood flow in arteries and veins. Arteries carry blood from the heart to the rest of the body, while veins return the blood. In the case of the legs, the blood must flow upward and needs muscle contractions to pump it, while small valves in the veins let the blood pass and then close to keep it from draining back down. When the veins and valves weaken, the blood can pool, leading to varicose veins and other circulatory problems.

Matty Behr, a recent patient at the center, found relief after getting treated.

“I was finding it difficult to do my job as a Pilate’s instructor as the pain in my legs was getting more intense. Thanks to the Vein and Vascular Center and Dr. Hallenbeck, I was able to get treated here in our community and get back to my regular active lifestyle,” Behr said.

Dr. Hallenbeck explained that when this reversal of blood flow (venous insufficiency) is found, they close the affected veins so that the blood will find a new path to the heart through healthy veins. Closing (ablation) is accomplished by applying heat through a catheter or by injecting a chemical.

“It takes about an hour, and the patient is back to regular activities almost immediately,” he said.

The treatments are covered by insurance, he added.

Tim Stephens, vice president of professional services at the hospital, said about 30 million Americans suffer from chronic venous insufficiency and fewer than 2 million get treated for it annually. The problem can affect men and women.

“A huge number of people have legs that hurt or look bad and are not aware that the cause is a vein issue that can be easily treated,” he said.

Heredity is partly to blame, he said, but other risk factors include: obesity, a lifestyle involving long periods of standing or sitting, poor circulation, pregnancy and age. Symptoms can include swollen ankles, varicose veins, itching, cramping, sores, aching, feelings of heaviness and changes in skin color.

For information about the SNMH Vein and Vascular Center, call 530-274-6197.

All physicians providing care for patients at SNMH are members of the medical staff and are independent practitioners, not employees of the hospital.

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The Union Updated Apr 16, 2013 08:12AM Published Apr 17, 2013 08:34AM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.