Sept. 3, 2009— -- Christine McLaughlin hid a painful secret for 15 years: underneath her long dresses, black stockings or heavy support hose, McLaughlin's legs were covered in large, bulging varicose veins.
And, more than unsightly, her problem recently became unhealthy as well.
"There was a real sensation of throbbing," McLaughlin, 45, told "Good Morning America." "They'd just hurt. It was a heaviness, a density about the lower limbs."
Dr. Mark Adelman of New York University said varicose veins can cause engorgement, swelling and fatigue as well, "the same sensation you would get if you put a blood pressure cuff on your arm."
The condition affects about 20 million Americans, Adelman said.
Aging can lead to varicose veins, typically in the legs, by causing the vessels to become less elastic, allowing them to stretch and pool blood. High blood pressure, such as the kind that comes with pregnancy, can also push the walls of the veins outward.
Initially wary of painful treatment, McLaughlin heard about the newest treatment for varicose veins called the VNUS ClosureFAST procedure.
The treatment involves threading a long electrode up the vein and then using radio frequency waves to heat the vein until it collapses and closes. The procedure is done without anesthesia and there is little to no pain or painful recovery. The treatment takes about 15 minutes.
"Typically, patients feel better right away, almost," Adelman said. "As they walk out, they feel lighter, that they no longer have that heavy pressure inside the veins."
The procedure is the cutting edge of a treatment that started nearly a decade ago when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the original closure catheter, Adelman said. But, back then, the treatment still required general anesthesia and a much longer session.
'Walking in Gratitude
"The procedure itself has evolved," Adelman said. "Now, we're not doing it in the hospital under general anesthesia. We're doing them in small procedure rooms in the office, without any IVs, without keeping the patient without food beforehand, and you can see the procedure takes 15 to 20 minutes."
Closing blood vessels, at first blush, would seem to be dangerous but, Adelman said, these varicose veins are "superficial."
"The veins that are necessary for normal circulation are deep inside the muscles," he said.
After the procedure, McLaughlin could not believe the relief she felt.
"Oh, words can't describe," she said. "I mean, what was really shocking to me was that there's no recovery period. That, as soon as the doctor was finished, his wonderful assistant, his surgery assistant, Wendy, literally wrapped up my leg, gave me a series of instructions and told me, 'You're walking out of here.'"
Now, without fear of shorts and skirts and in great health, McLaughlin said she's "walking in gratitude."