A vein is a blood vessel that carries blood through your body. Varicose veins are one among a spectrum of chronic vein problems. It is common and can be found in up to 20% of the adult population. The severity of the condition varies and while varicose veins are responsible for significant discomfort and potential skin breakdown in the leg, the symptoms are not always directly related to the size of the abnormal veins.
Normally, blood passages usually have valves that ensure blood flow to the heart without clotting. These one-way valves in the veins keep blood flowing toward the heart, against the force of gravity. But varicose vein valves can be broken or unavailable. When the valves become weak and don’t close properly, they allow blood to flow backward, a condition called “reflux”. Veins whose valves have lost their effectiveness become elongated, rope-like, bulged, and thickened. These enlarged, swollen vessels are known as “varicose veins” and are a direct result of increased pressure from reflux.
A common cause of varicose veins in the legs is reflux in the long vein running along the length of the leg, or the “great saphenous vein”, leading to pooling in the veins below it. Clearly visible under the skin, varicose veins are inflamed and are twisted or bulge out, and are normally red or blue in color. They can appear in other parts of the body but are most common in the legs.
Removing or tying off the superficial saphenous vein found in the leg can be done through vein stripping and is an effective treatment option. Although varicose veins carry blood, they are not part of the venous valve system and can be eliminated safely and permanently through a simple treatment done by a qualified physician. For the past 30 years, surgical stripping has been the treatment option recommended by most doctors for relief from varicose veins. Varicose veins can result in more serious leg damage if left untreated.
The information below will help you understand this procedure so that you can talk to your doctor about it.
1 to 1 ½ hours are required for the procedure. You will need either:
- General anesthesia - This method puts you to sleep and prevents you from feeling pain.
- Spinal anesthesia - This makes the lower body numb. Medicine to help you relax may also be given.
- Two or three small incisions are made in the leg.
- Incisions are made close to the bottom, middle, and top of the affected vein. One cut will be in the groin area, while another will be in the lower leg at the ankle or calf area.
- The physician fixes a lean plastic wire in the groin vein, and pushes it toward the lower part of the leg.
- Using a wire tied to the vein, it is pulled out through the cut and out of the lower part of the leg
- If there are other affected veins close to the skin's surface, the physician will make small incisions to eliminate or thread them off through a process called ambulatory phlebectomy.
- Stitches are then used by the doctor to close the incisions.
- Bandages and a compression stocking will have to be worn on the leg
Importance of this procedure
Vein stripping is recommended by a physician for:
- Blood flow complications caused by varicose veins
- Aching and bulkiness in the leg
- Discoloration and soreness of the skin due to excessive pressure in the veins
- Veins that are inflamed and contain clotted blood
- Visually more appealing legs
- Failed treatment of varicose veins using modern methods
Currently, physicians are performing less vein stripping surgeries since modern, non-surgical methods that don’t need general anesthesia are being done without the patient needing to spend a night at the hospital. These remedies heal fast and involve minimal pain.
Consult your physician if any complications occur.
Hazards of anesthesia:
- Allergic reaction to the anesthesia
- Difficulty breathing
Hazards associated with surgery:
- A lasting change in the color of the skin around the area that was operated on
Hazards associated with vein stripping:
- Nerve injury
- Recurring varicose veins
- Scarring and bruising
Preparing for the Procedure
Prior to the procedure, your doctor will perform a physical examination. This is to help him determine where the non-working valves are located. Additional examinations like scans and ultrasounds may be performed to provide the doctor clear images of the affected veins.
Mention to your physician:
- In case you are pregnant
- All medications you are taking including supplements and herbs
- If you have been having 1 to 2 alcoholic drinks daily
Days prior to your surgery,
- Confirm with your physician the drugs you should and should not take.
- Stop smoking if you are a smoker. Not doing so will interfere with your healing process. Your physician can assist you in this.
- Avoid using ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin), and other medicines that interfere with blood clotting.
Ensure that you arrange to have a family member or close friend 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.
On the day of the surgery
Don’t eat or drink anything for at least 6-8 hours prior to surgery. Swallow the medication provided by your doctor with little water.
After the Procedure
After surgery, your leg or legs will be covered with bandages for 3 to 5 days to avoid inflammation and blood loss. You might need to keep them covered for a few weeks. You will also be advised to stay off your feet as much as possible for the first few days after surgery, as well as to elevate your legs whenever you are seated. Your recovery time will depend on how many veins were stripped and where they were located.
Vein stripping by a doctor improves the looks of your leg. It’s not common for vein stripping to leave scars. Some leg swelling may occur, though this should be minor. Ensure you use compression stockings often.
The procedure is also called avulsion, ablation, vein stripping with ligation, vein ligation and stripping, or vein surgery.
It is very important to see a doctor if back pain persists. Seeking advice from a professional is immensely important and crucial to being able to deal with the problem in a good and healthy way.