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Vein stripping is more properly called vein ligation. It is a surgical process by which large varicose veins are removed from the legs. Primary reasons for having vein stripping done include cosmetically improving the look of the legs, or addressing conditions that can be caused by varicose veins. In particular, some people develop ulcerations on or around varicose veins that may be eliminated through vein stripping.
Physicians call vein stripping an outpatient procedure, or same-day operation. Usually, a patient is given general anesthesia. When patients are completely unconscious through anesthesia, a vascular surgeon makes small cuts in the skin to access varicose veins. These are then ligated (cut) and removed. Remainders of the veins are tied off to control bleeding.
Vein stripping is typically used to remove large varicose veins. Small varicose veins are not treated in the same manner. Instead, if a person needs small varicose veins removed, they have a procedure called sclerotherapy, which injects chemicals into small veins to close them. If both large and small varicose veins are present, vein stripping and sclerotherapy are usually done in separate treatments.
There are some complications from vein stripping that may occur, and some people who should probably not undergo vein stripping. Pregnant women should never undergo the procedure. Vein stripping may worsen the condition of those with poor leg circulation, and those who are elderly may be more at risk from the procedure.
The greatest possible complication of the surgery is formation of clots that can then move to the lungs (pulmonary embolism). Though this is rare, the condition is very dangerous and should be considered prior to undergoing the procedure, particularly when the only purpose of vein stripping is cosmetic. Further, all surgeries run an inherent risk when one is under general anesthesia, or even local anesthesia is used. You should discuss risks and benefits with your surgeon prior to undergoing vein stripping.
Some people do have residual scarring after vein stripping, and they may have new varicose veins form right away. Usually, varicose veins will reform when deep tissue veins are damaged. Removing deep tissue veins during the vein stripping process can halt this.
For most people, the surgery provides a better look to the legs, improves circulation and can reduce ulcers or leg pain due to standing for long periods of time. Most people are able to go back to work a few days after vein stripping, and are able to resume a fully active life within a few weeks of the surgery. Roughly 90% of those who undergo the procedure are satisfied with the results and have no complications due to the surgery.