Sclerotherapy is Not Vein Stripping (Not Even Close)

Sclerotherapy is Not Vein Stripping (Not Even Close)
(Christian Delbert - Fotolia)

People have various reasons for putting off treating their varicose veins—the bulgy, purple ropes that show up under the skin. For some, they don’t think that varicose veins are a medical condition worth treating (they are). Others may not want to take the time to treat varicose veins because it could take too long (it doesn’t: in many cases, a simple office visit can take between thirty and sixty minutes). Yet many people hold off varicose vein treatment for the simple reason that they’ve grown up with stories from their mothers and grandmothers of the painful vein stripping. The simple truth is that vein stripping has become a less practiced procedure, in favor of the non-invasive and nearly painless sclerotherapy.

What is vein stripping and why is it so bad?

For varicose veins with nonworking valves, doctors will do a scan (ultrasound or duplex scan) to uncover the source of the varicose veins and how much blood is flowing into them, which will help doctors rule out blood clots or deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Also, vein stripping is

performed using general anesthesia in most cases (occasionally spinal anesthesia). You won’t feel the 60 to 90 minute procedure, but you will have some recovery time coming out of anesthesia. Additional recovery can take up to two or three weeks.

For the actual procedure, a surgeon makes an incision in your groin and another farther down the leg (usually in the calf or ankle), as well as small incisions near the top and bottom of the varicose vein to be “stripped.” Then, through the groin incision, the surgeon will thread a thin wire made of flexible plastic, which will be tied to the vein and then pulled out, with the vein, through the lower leg incision. Once the procedure is completed, the incisions will be stitched, and the leg (or legs) bandaged and wrapped in compression stockings to stimulate blood flow and reduce swelling.

What makes sclerotherapy different?

First off, sclerotherapy has been around since the 1930s but has only recently become commonplace in treating varicose veins. A type of saline solution is injected directly into the damaged vein, which damages the interior lining of the vein and causes it to close. An early version of the process was attempted in Switzerland in the 1600s, using acid. In the 1800s, a different injectable was used, though there were significant side effects. Because of the side effects, vein stripping became the method of choice for treating varicose veins.

Fortunately, doctors now use a chemical liquid called “sclerosant,” which has rare, if any, side effects. Occasionally, there may be an allergic reaction, or slight tissue necrosis if the injection is administered outside the vein, which may cause some slight skin discoloration. However, this too is rare, and now many doctors even administer the injections using ultrasound guidance.

Foam sclerosant is becoming increasingly popular for treating varicose veins, as it doesn’t dilute with the blood in the vein, improving the effectiveness and quickness of the procedure.

Sclerotherapy is now considered the most effective and efficient way to treat most varicose veins, and the best part is that no incisions (or anesthesia) are required. While compression stockings are recommended for post treatment, patients receiving sclerotherapy can go about the rest of their day directly after their in-office procedure.

It’s best not to put off varicose vein treatment, as the problem veins will only get worse and may lead to a more serious condition. If you have more questions about the sclerotherapy procedure or are ready to consider sclerotherapy to remove your varicose veins, visit us at or contact us at 760-944-9263.