Varicose Vein Stripping

Written by Shannon Johnson | Published on June 4, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What is Varicose Vein Stripping?

Varicose veins are veins whose valves, which operate as a stopper to keep blood flowing forward, are not working properly or are missing. The veins become filled with blood, swell, and can be extremely painful.

Vein stripping is a surgical process that removes varicose veins from the legs. This procedure is also known as vein stripping with ligation, avulsion, or ablation.

When Do Doctors Recommend Varicose Vein Stripping?

There are many reasons why a doctor will recommend that a person get varicose vein stripping, including:

  • constant pain, throbbing, and tenderness in legs
  • skin sores and open wounds (ulcers)
  • blood clots
  • extremely painful veins
  • bleeding from veins

If you are particularly concerned about the appearance of your leg, varicose vein stripping may be an option for you. Talk to your doctor.

How to Prepare for Vein Stripping Surgery

Doctors will perform a preoperative examination to get a good idea of what the cause of the varicose vein is and where the nonworking valves are. Some doctors will use a handheld ultrasound device that helps them get a better view of the veins and their valves.

A duplex scan is another way for doctors to get a close-up view of varicose veins, especially in complex situations. The scan provides detailed visual images of the vein and its blood flow. In all cases, the vein to be removed is marked before the surgery takes place.

The Vein Stripping Procedure

Vein stripping is often done on an outpatient basis and takes between 60 and 90 minutes to complete. “Outpatient” means that you will be able to go home after the surgery. A particularly complicated varicose vein surgery could take longer. Depending on the doctor’s recommendation, individuals will receive either general or spinal anesthesia.

General anesthesia puts a patient to sleep throughout the entire procedure. Spinal anesthesia, meanwhile, blocks the pain in the lower part of the body, but the patient remains awake. Doctors will sometimes give anti-anxiety medication to patients receiving spinal anesthesia in order to ease any nervousness about the procedure.

The cuts will be near the top and bottom of your damaged vein. One will be in your groin. The other will be farther down your leg, either in your calf or ankle. Next, the doctor will thread a thin, flexible plastic wire into the vein through the groin incision. The wire is then tied to the vein and pulled out through the cut in the lower leg. The cuts are stitched closed, and then bandages and compression stockings are placed on the legs.

What to Expect After the Procedure

A person’s recovery time is usually between two to four weeks depending on how many veins were stripped and where they were located. Most people will be released home on the same day, although there are some occasions that the doctor will advise a patient to stay at the hospital overnight.

Doctors will usually prescribe two to three days of painkillers to help with the discomfort. In addition, patients should stay off their feet as much as possible for the first three to four days after surgery. The legs should be elevated at all times when sitting during this time. After four days have passed, people can remove the bandages. For the next two weeks, the legs should be elevated whenever you are in a seated position. By the fourth week, most people can return to normal activities.

Risks Associated with Varicose Vein Stripping

Vein stripping is a surgical procedure, and there are always risks associated with surgeries. They include:

  • allergic reaction to anesthesia
  • breathing problems
  • bleeding
  • bruising
  • infection at cut site
  • scarring
  • nerve injury
  • reoccurrence of varicose veins
  • temporary severe pain

Although these risks exist, they are relatively rare, as this is generally a safe procedure with minimal risks. In addition, the following individuals are usually told to avoid vein-stripping procedures:

  • pregnant women
  • individuals with poor leg circulation
  • individuals with skin infections
  • extremely obese people
  • people with blood clotting issues

Complications are more common in people who fall under these categories.

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