Vein stripping is a form of surgery that has been used for many years to remove large varicose veins. Smaller spider veins are treated with less invasive techniques, such as sclerotherapy or intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy. Most patients with varicose veins are now treated with less invasive methods such as endovenous laser ablation, radiofrequency ablation, ambulatory phlebectomy and/or ultrasound-guided foam sclerotherapy.
Vein stripping generally refers to the surgical removal of an improperly functioning saphenous vein and varicose veins. These veins are larger veins located near the surface of the legs. The goals of vein stripping are to eliminate reflux, or backward flow, down the dysfunctional saphenous vein, and to remove the bulging varicose veins. During the vein stripping procedure, an incision is made in the groin with one or more incisions lower down in the leg. A “stripper” is placed in the vein. The stripper is then used to remove the vein. Incisions are also made over the surface varicose veins so that these veins can be removed. This procedure is called stab phlebectomy. Vein stripping is usually done in an outpatient facility with the patient under general anesthesia.
After undergoing vein stripping, as with most types of intensive vein surgery, patients can return home as an outpatient; no overnight stay at a hospital is really necessary unless the patient experiences a lot of pain or other post-surgical complications. Compression bandaging is applied for several days and may be worn for as long as a week or two. Some walking is usually encouraged during recovery from vein stripping. Strenuous physical activity such as heavy weight lifting, travel and hot baths are to be avoided for a week or two as well.
Vein stripping can be performed for cosmetic and medical purposes. However, other less invasive medical procedures such as sclerotherapy and endovenous laser or radiofrequency ablation are now commonly used in place of vein stripping. Such technologies allow varicose vein removal to be minimally invasive, and are routinely done in an office setting under local anesthesia.
Vein stripping is associated with a relatively low risk of serious complications. Bruising and soreness are common but temporary. Numbness can occur because there are some nerves that can be in close proximity to the saphenous veins. Some scarring should be expected in the incision areas. Infection and blood clots are uncommon. Consult a vein specialist or a vein doctor to determine the most appropriate vein treatment options for you.
Reviewed by Steven E. Zimmet, MD, RVT, FACPh
Editor of Phlebology
President, Zimmet Vein & Dermatology
Past-President, American College of Phlebology