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Varicose Vein Stripping

By: Kathryn Senior PhD - Updated: 19 Nov 2012 | comments*Discuss
Varicose Vein Stripping Varicose Vein

Middle aged and older women often start to suffer from varicose veins, but they can also occur in men. This conditions causes unsightly bulges that usually occur in the calves and result from swelling in veins that have lost the function of some of their internal valves. Veins are the blood vessels that carry blood from the body back to the heart and they have a series of valves that prevent blood flowing backwards. With age, these valves can get damage or disintegrate, allowing blood to pool in the veins, causing sections of them to distend and swell. These swellings become visible under the skin as black bumps that look a bit like small grapes.

Varicose veins are removed or stripped because of cosmetic and medical reasons. As well as looking bad, varicose veins can also be more easily damaged, leading to skin ulcers and bleeding. Because the blood supply to the legs is generally disrupted, skin conditions such as eczema are also commonly associated with varicose veins.

Some Non-surgical Options

In people whose varicose veins are just beginning to develop, resting with the legs higher than the body can prevent them getting worse. Wearing stockings made from elasticated material that compresses the legs can also help as this squeezes the veins to prevent blood from pooling. Treatments involving microwaves, radiowaves and lasers are also used today, which destroy a badly affected vein without surgery, closing it off and forcing nearby healthy veins to take over the job of getting blood back to the heart.

What Happens During Surgery?

Without treatment, varicose veins only get worse and when a lot of swellings are present in both legs despite using stockings and resting, surgery can be more successful that the alternative non-surgical options.

The operation will be done under general anaesthetic and can be done as an outpatient procedure and you can be allowed home the same day. If surgery is being done on both legs, most hospitals do however recommend that you do stay in for one night, just to make sure all is OK.

Different surgeons use slightly different methods but the overall result is the same. The main vein that is usually badly affected is tied off at both ends and then cut out and removed. Blood from the leg continues to flow up to the heart but does so through alternative routes, using healthier veins that still have their valves in tact.

One cut of about 5 centimetres (2 inches) long is made at the groin and another one is made near the knee, or even lower down at the ankle. Each cut is made as close as possible to the affective vein that has been targeted for removal. The top end of the vein is tied off first to stop blood going further up. A thin wire is then passed down the vein, inside the lumen, until it reaches the second, lower incision. It is then pulled out of the leg through the lower incision, pulling out the vein as it goes. Occasionally, the vein is tied off at both ends but left in the leg. The procedure is repeated at different points along the leg to remove all the veins that have swellings.

Recovering From Varicose Vein Surgery

After the operation, the cuts are stitched and covered and the legs are wrapped in fairly tight bandages for support. You are under the anaesthetic for about two hours, longer if both legs are done and you have many varicose veins to treat. It is therefore common to feel sick and groggy afterwards because of the anaesthesia. The trauma to the legs is superficial but significant and this can leave you feeling sore and stiff. You will be offered mild painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen to make you more comfortable.

Even if you stay in hospital overnight, it is unwise to try to drive too soon and you need to get home and rest for a few days. It is very important to avoid standing for extended periods, as this causes blood to pool in your legs and can damage the veins that are taking over the work of those that have been removed.

Sitting down with your ankles higher than your body is advised and for the fortnight after surgery, you should try to walk regularly, for about three times each day to exercise your leg muscles to help with blood flow.

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