Complications of Varicose Vein Surgery

Varicose vein surgery is one of the commonest operations performed in the UK. Although the vast majority of these are straightforward with quick recovery times and improvement in the symptoms and appearance, there are occasional problems (complications) which delay recovery time or require further assessment and treatments. Most of these complications are unavoidable and a direct result of the procedure itself. You should read this leaflet before having surgery and ask your GP or specialist if you do not understand any of the information.

1. Infection

It is not uncommon to notice some redness or hardness in your wounds but if there is associated discharge or you have a temperature then there may be infection. You should consult your GP or specialist who may prescribe a course of antibiotics. Usually this is all that is required but, very occasionally, you may require admission for drainage of infected fluid.

2. Bruising

A degree of bruising is always present following vein surgery and usually resolves within 4 weeks. The bruising may be most marked in the thigh if the long vein is stripped, and can be quite lumpy. Bruising may be worsened if you are regularly taking aspirin/clopidogrel or anticoagulants such as warfarin and you should always inform your surgeon if this is the case. Some patients take Arneca capsules or lotions to reduce the bruising but we have no real evidence that this makes a significant difference.

3. Numbness (paraesthesia)

Occasionally the surface nerves supplying areas of skin are close to the varicose veins and become damaged when the veins are removed. This may result in areas of numbness in the skin but these often reduce or disappear with time as the nerves regain function, or other nerves supply the affected area. A common area affected is the inner aspect of the thigh, calf or ankle when the long saphenous vein is stripped, or the outer aspect of the foot if the short saphenous vein is treated. You should mention this on your postoperative clinic appointment for our records, but it may take several months for recovery to be complete. It is very rare to have any weakness of the leg following this type of surgery, and this should be reported as soon as possible to your GP or specialist.

4. Residual varicose veins

Although this is not strictly a complication many patients will notice some varicose veins remaining after their operation. One must remember that surgery is performed to improve the symptoms of varicose veins rather than to remove every visible abnormality. However, once surgery has been performed it may be easier to inject any remaining veins in the outpatient department if they are still aching or painful.

5. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

This is a possible complication of any surgery but is more common if you are overweight, a smoker, take the high-dose oral contraceptive pill, have a previous history or family history of vein thrombosis, are having repeat vein surgery, and if you are very immobile after the operation. If you are being considered for surgery you may therefore be asked to lose weight, give up smoking, stop the pill etc. Additionally we may give you a blood thinning injection during surgery if appropriate, and would ask you to keep moving during your recovery, or elevate your legs when resting. If you are likely to undergo any long (more than 2 hours) car or airplane journeys within a couple of weeks after surgery you should alert your specialist beforehand. If you notice that one calf is much more swollen or painful than the other following your operation it may be wise to consult your GP. If a DVT is detected you will require daily injections and then warfarin tablets for between 6 weeks and 3 months