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Varicose vein stripping

Definition

Vein stripping is surgery to remove varicose veins in the legs.

Alternative Names

Vein stripping with ligation, avulsion, or ablation; vein ligation and stripping; vein surgery

Description

Varicose veins are swollen, twisted, and enlarged veins that you can see under the skin. They are often red or blue in color. They usually appear in the legs, but can occur in other parts of the body. 

Normally, valves in your veins keep your blood flowing up toward the heart, so the blood does not collect in one place.The valves in varicose veins are either damaged or missing. This causes the veins to become filled with blood, especially when you are standing.

Vein stripping is used to remove or tie off a large vein in the leg called the superficial saphenous vein. This helps treat varicose veins.

Vein stripping usually takes about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. You may receive either:

  • General anesthesia and you will be asleep and unable to feel pain.
  • Spinal anesthesia, which will make the lower half of your body feel numb. You may also get medicine to help you relax.

During surgery:

  • Your surgeon will make two or three small cuts in your leg.
  • The cuts are near the top, middle, and bottom of your damaged vein. One is in your groin. The other will be farther down your leg, either in your calf or ankle.
  • Your surgeon will then thread a thin, flexible plastic wire into the vein through your groin and guide the wire through the vein toward the other cut farther down your leg.
  • The wire is then tied to the vein and pulled out through the lower cut, which pulls the vein out with it.
  • If you have other damaged veins near the surface of your skin, your surgeon may also make small cuts over them to remove them or tie them off. This is called ambulatory phlebectomy.
  • The doctor will close the cuts with stitches.
  • You will have bandages and compression stockings on your leg after the procedure.

Why the Procedure Is Performed

The doctor may recommend vein stripping for:

  • Varicose veins that cause problems with blood flow
  • Leg pain and heaviness
  • Skin changes or sores that are caused by too much pressure in the veins
  • Blood clots or swelling in the veins
  • To make your leg look better
  • Varicose veins that can't be treated with newer procedures

Today, doctors are doing fewer vein stripping surgeries because there are newer, non-surgical ways to treat varicose veins. These treatments are less painful and have a much faster recovery time. However, these methods can't treat veins below the knee.

Risks

Vein stripping is usually safe. Ask your doctor about any problems that might occur.

The risks from any anesthesia include:

The risks from any surgery include:

The risks from vein stripping include:

  • Bruising or scarring
  • Nerve injury
  • Return of varicose veins over time

Before the Procedure

Always tell your doctor or nurse:

  • If you are or could be pregnant
  • What drugs you are taking; including drugs, supplements, or herbs you bought without a prescription
  • If you have been drinking more than 1 or 2 alcoholic drinks a day

During the days before your surgery:

  • You may be asked to stop taking aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), warfarin (Coumadin), and any other drugs that make it hard for your blood to clot.
  • Ask your doctor which medications you should still take on the day of your surgery.
  • If you smoke, try to stop. Your doctor or nurse can help. Smoking will slow your healing and recovery.

On the day of your surgery:

  • You will likely be asked not to drink or eat anything for at least 6 to 8 hours before surgery.
  • Take your prescribed medications with a small sip of water.

After the Procedure

Your legs will be wrapped with bandages to control swelling and bleeding for 3 to 5 days after surgery. You may need to keep them wrapped for several weeks.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Surgical vein stripping reduces pain and improves the appearance of your leg. Rarely, vein stripping causes scars. Mild leg swelling can occur. Be sure you regularly wear compression stockings.

References

Freischlag JA, Heller JA. Venous disease. In: Townsend CM, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 65.

Goldman MP, Guex JJ, Weiss RA. Sclerotherapy: Treatment of Varicose and Telangiectatic Leg Veins. 5th ed. Phildelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2011.


Review Date: 5/15/2013
Reviewed By: John A. Daller, MD, PhD., Department of Surgery, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, Arkansas. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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