Varicose Veins

“Varicose veins are when veins become abnormally tortuous and dilated. This is often associated with failure of the valves within the veins to direct blood back towards the heart. “

Based on their size, we classify veins into one of the following categories

  • Telangectasia/spider vein: <1mm

  • Reticular viens: 1-3mm

  • Varicose veins: >3mm

Management options for varicose veins in the last few years have changed drastically. In particular we have seen the explosion in endovenous options that permit patients to pursue more minimally invasive options than ever before. Despite this, there is still a role for open surgery in some patients, and some patients are not best treated with endovenous options. Consequently, the vascular surgeon is still best to advise patients on best course of action going forward.

Do I need to have my veins treated?

Varicose veins are not a major disorder of circulation. You only need to have your veins treated if you want them treated. We very rarely insist that someone needs to have any treatment for varicose veins, but only offer them to you if you find them unpleasant enough or if they cause major problems such as skin staining, ulcers and bleeding. Some people have no symptoms from varicose veins, but others have a wide variety of symptoms from swollen ankles to eczema and ulcers. Compression stockings are an effective alternative treatment.

Varicose Veins Treatment

There are several treatment options for varicose veins, and importantly not one single treatment options is suitable for every single patient. Further, the landscape for the treatment of varicose veins is rapidly evolving with newer techniques being developed with equally rapid pace. Despite this, there are several well established practices in place that consistently produce good results for patients and are well supported by the current medical literature.

Patients may encounter one of several options

  • Traditional open surgery (often called high ligation and stripping)
  • Radiofrequency ablation (see below)
  • Endovenous laser ablation (EVLA)
  • Ultrasound guided sclerotherapy
  • Venaseal



A current Cochrane Review Cochrane Review (Whing 2021) compares the various  surgical treatment options available and compares their relative efficacy. The findings can be summarised as follows.

  • Laser versus radiofrequency ablation: comparable results at 5 years
  • Radiofrequency ablation versus surgery: similar early results, with a potential for better long term benefits.
  • Surgery versus sclerotherapy only: surgery generally produces more successful results.


Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA)

RFA is a modern, minimally invasive treatment option for varicose veins. It involves passing a long catheter into the main vein causing varicose veins, and applying controlled heat along its length to allow it to collapse. 

Generally, the results of RFA are excellent and almost comparable to open surgery. Most people can generally undergo RFA, and this can even be sometimes performed in the rooms. 



Sclerotherapy is a non surgical treatment for varicose veins. Sclerotherapy is used to injury the veins and cause them to become irritated and stick together. This leads to damage of the veins, but in doing so causes them to scar and shrink. The veins eventually disappear altogether.

What do you use for sclerotherapy, and how does it work?


There are different chemicals and substances used for sclerotherapy. We generally use an agent that acts like a detergent. It is injected directly into the vein under ultrasound guidance as a foam solution.


What are the risks?

  • Ulceration and skin damage
  • Hyperpigmentation this is where areas of the skin appear brown and discoloured. One in three people will experience this and it will eventually disappear in most people. In a very small group of people these will persist.
  • Nerve injury extremely uncommon. This involves nerves being damaged by the injections. Sometimes people experience chronic pain or burning.
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or blood clots.
  • Extremely rare complications such as stroke have been reported to happen with large doses of sclerotherapy. We typically use safe doses only to minimise major complications. 

What is a vascular surgeon?

A vascular surgeon is a medical specialist that has obtained recognition from the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in the speciality of vascular surgery. The vascular surgery training program is a highly competitive training program that doctors enter after completing medical school, internship, residency and research. There are generally 8 to 10 individuals selected into this training program across Australia and New Zealand per year. Vascular surgeons then embark on a 5 to 6 year training program where they spend each individual year in a different tertiary public teaching hospital. There are several examinations throughout this time. Many of these surgeons adopt the title of “Mister” or “Miss”, denoting their specialist training in the art of surgery after successful completion of their training.

Why see a vascular surgeon?

There are many doctors who offer treatment for varicose veins – many of them are not vascular surgeons. A vascular surgeon can offer both treatment in hospital (public and private) as well as the full complement of both minimally invasive and open surgical options. Furthermore, some treatment for varicose veins can be provided for free in the public sector and paid for via medicare. Patients can only access publicly subsided treatment by seeing a surgeon who is a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (FRACS).


T: +61 3 8362 3780

F: +61 3 8677 1755

M: PO Box 42 Heidelberg VIC 3084




Hospital Locations

Public Appointments

  • Austin Health
  • Alfred Health
  • Eastern Health

Private Appointments

  • Cabrini Malvern
  • Epworth Eastern
  • Warringal Private Hospital
  • Holmesglen Private Hospital

“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” — Helen Keller

© Sam Farah 2021