Varicose vein stripping is a surgical procedure that removes varicose veins from the legs or thighs. Varicose veins are the puffy and twisted veins that you can see under the skin. They usually have a red or bluish-purple color. Varicose veins most often appear in the legs, but they may also develop in other parts of the body.
Varicose veins form in the legs when the valves in the veins aren’t functioning correctly. Veins normally have one-way valves that prevent your blood from flowing back up toward the heart. When these valves don’t work properly, blood begins to collect in the vein rather than continuing to the heart. This makes the vein fill with blood, resulting in painful, swollen veins.
Varicose vein stripping treats varicose veins and helps prevent them from coming back. The procedure is also known as vein stripping with ligation, avulsion, or ablation.
Your doctor may recommend varicose vein stripping if you’re experiencing:
- constant pain, throbbing, and tenderness in the legs
- skin sores and ulcers
- blood clots
- bleeding from the veins
Varicose vein stripping may also be done if you’re concerned about the cosmetic appearance of your legs. Speak with your doctor to see if varicose vein stripping is a good option for you.
Your doctor will perform a physical examination before the procedure. This can help your doctor determine where the nonworking valves are located. Your doctor may use a handheld ultrasound device so they can get a better view of the veins and their valves. They may also order a duplex scan, which provides clear images of the affected veins and the amount of blood flow. This test also can rule out any clots, or thromboses, in the veins. This allows your doctor to see the varicose veins in more detail.
Before the procedure, it’s important to tell your doctor about any prescription or over-the-counter medications you’re taking. Your doctor may ask you to stop taking certain medicines temporarily, as some may cause heavy bleeding during varicose vein stripping.
You should also arrange for a family member or friend to drive you home after the procedure. Varicose vein stripping is often performed using general anesthesia, which can make you drowsy and unable to drive for several hours.
Varicose vein stripping is a safe, low-risk surgical procedure. However, there are always risks associated with surgeries. These include:
- an allergic reaction to anesthesia
- infection at the incision sites
- heavy bleeding
- blood clots
- bruising or scarring
- nerve injury
These risks are rare. However, certain people are more like to experience them. Varicose vein stripping usually isn’t recommended for:
- pregnant women
- people with poor leg circulation
- people with skin infections
- people with blood-clotting issues
- people who are very overweight
Varicose vein stripping is often done on an outpatient basis, which means you’ll be able to go home the same day as the surgery. The procedure typically takes 60 to 90 minutes. A particularly complicated surgery could take longer.
Depending on your doctor’s recommendation, you may receive either general or spinal anesthesia before the procedure. General anesthesia puts you to sleep throughout the entire procedure. Spinal anesthesia numbs the lower part of your body, but you’ll stay awake during the procedure. Your doctor may give you an anti-anxiety medication to take beforehand if you’re receiving spinal anesthesia and feeling nervous about the procedure.
During varicose vein stripping, your surgeon will make several small cuts, or incisions, near the top and bottom of your damaged vein. One incision will be in your groin. The other will be farther down your leg, either in your calf or ankle. They will then thread a thin, flexible plastic wire into the vein through the groin incision. The wire will be tied to the vein and pulled out through the cut in the lower leg. Your surgeon will then close the cuts with stitches and place bandages and compression stockings on your legs.
It usually takes two to four weeks to recover from varicose vein stripping. However, your recovery time will depend on how many veins were stripped and where they were located.
Your doctor will prescribe pain medications to help with the discomfort. They’ll also tell you to stay off of your feet as much as possible for the first three to four days after surgery. You may be able to remove the bandages after four days have passed. During recovery, it’s important to keep your legs elevated when you’re sitting. You can prop up your legs with pillows. By the fourth week, you can probably return to your normal activities.