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Varicose Vein Surgery Workup

  • Author: Wesley K Lew, MD; Chief Editor: Vincent Lopez Rowe, MD  more...
Updated: Nov 18, 2015

Approach Considerations

No currently available laboratory test is useful in the diagnosis or therapy of varicose veins. Patients with varicose veins may have a spuriously positive D-dimer test result because of chronic low-level thrombosis within varices. For more information, see Deep Venous Thrombosis.

Duplex ultrasonography (US) has become the most useful tool for workup and has replaced many of the physical examination maneuvers and physiologic tests once used for diagnosis (see below).


Tests for Ruling Out Deep Venous Thrombosis As Cause

Duplex ultrasonography

Duplex US is a noninvasive imaging modality with good sensitivity and selectivity for ruling out deep venous thrombosis (DVT) in this setting. (See Deep Venous Thrombosis.)

Perthes maneuver/Linton test

This is a physical examination technique in which a tourniquet is placed over the proximal part of the leg to compress any superficial varicose veins while leaving deep veins unaffected. The patient walks or performs toe-stands to activate the calf-muscle pump, which normally causes varicose veins to be emptied. However, if obstruction of the deep system exists, then activation of the calf-muscle pump causes a paradoxic congestion of the superficial venous system and engorgement of varicose veins resulting in a positive test.

To verify, the patient is then placed supine, and the leg is then elevated (Linton test). If varices distal to the tourniquet fail to drain after a few seconds, again deep venous obstruction must be considered. Currently, with the advent of duplex imaging and assessment of the superficial and deep venous systems, this test is rarely performed in practice.

Maximum venous outflow

Maximum venous outflow (MVO) is a functional test to help detect obstruction of venous outflow. It can help detect more proximal occlusion of the iliac veins and the inferior vena cava (IVC), as well as extrinsic causes of obstruction in addition to DVT. MVO uses plethysmography (a technique for measuring volume changes of the leg) to measure the speed at with which blood can flow out of a maximally congested lower leg when an occluding thigh tourniquet is suddenly removed.[19]

Magnetic resonance venography

Magnetic resonance venography (MRV) is the most sensitive and most specific test for finding causes of anatomic obstruction. MRV is particularly useful because unsuspected nonvascular causes for leg pain and edema may often be seen on the scan image when the clinical presentation erroneously suggests venous insufficiency or venous obstruction. However, this is an expensive test that is used only as an adjuvant when doubt still exists.[19]


Tests for Demonstrating Reflux

Duplex ultrasonography with color-flow imaging

Duplex US with color-flow imaging (sometimes called triplex US) is a special type of two-dimensional (2D) US that uses Doppler-flow information to add color for blood flow in the image. Vessels in the blood are colored red for flow in one direction and blue for flow in the other, with a graduated color scale to reflect the speed of the flow. Venous valvular reflux is defined as regurgitant flow with Valsalva that lasts longer than 2 seconds.

Trendelenburg test

The Trendelenburg test is a physical examination technique that is used to distinguish patients with reflux at the saphenofemoral junction (SFJ) from those with incompetent deep venous valves. The leg is elevated until the congested superficial veins have all collapsed. Direct pressure is used to occlude the great saphenous vein (GSV) just below the SFJ. The patient stands with the occlusion still in place.

If the distal superficial varicosities remains empty or fills very slowly, the principal entry point of high pressure into the superficial system is at the SFJ. Rapid filling despite manual occlusion means that some other reflux pathway is involved.

Doppler auscultation

A Doppler transducer is positioned along the axis of a vein with the probe at an angle of 45° to the skin. When the distal vein is compressed, audible forward flow exists. If the valves are competent, no audible backward flow is heard with the release of compression. If the valves are incompetent, an audible backflow exists. These compression-decompression maneuvers are repeated while the limb gradually ascends to a level at which the reflux can no longer be appreciated.

Venous refilling time

The venous refilling time (VRT) is a physiologic test that uses plethysmography. The VRT is the time necessary for the lower leg to become infused with blood after the calf-muscle pump has emptied the lower leg as thoroughly as possible.

In healthy subjects, the VRT is longer than 120 s. In patients with mild and asymptomatic venous insufficiency, the VRT is 40-120 s. In patients with significant venous insufficiency, the VRT is abnormally fast, 20-40 s. Such patients often complain of nocturnal leg cramps, restless legs, leg soreness, burning leg pain, and premature leg fatigue. A VRT shorter than 20 s is markedly abnormal and is nearly always symptomatic. If the VRT is shorter than 10 s, venous ulcerations are likely.[19]

Muscle pump ejection fraction

The muscle pump ejection fraction (MPEF) test is used to detect failure of the calf-muscle pump to expel blood from the lower leg. MPEF results are highly repeatable but require a skilled operator. The patient performs ankle dorsiflexion 10-20 times, and plethysmography is used to record the change in­­­­­­­­­­­ calf blood volume. In healthy patients, the venous systems will drain, but in patients with muscle pump failure, severe proximal obstruction, or severe deep vein insufficiency, the amount of blood remaining within the calf shows little or no change.[19]


Tests for Delineating Anatomy

Duplex ultrasonography

With 2D US, an anatomic picture is generated on the basis of the time delay of ultrasonic pulses reflected from deep structures. Structures that absorb, transmit, or scatter ultrasonic waves appear as dark areas in the image; structures that reflect the waves back to the transducer appear as white areas. Vessel walls reflect ultrasound waves; blood flowing in a vessel absorbs and scatters ultrasound waves in all directions. The normal vessel appears as a dark-filled, white-walled structure.

Duplex US is a combination of anatomic imaging by 2D US and flow detection by Doppler shift. With duplex US, after the 2D anatomic image is displayed, a particular spot in the image can be selected for Doppler-shift measurement of flow direction and velocity.

Structural details that can be observed include the most delicate venous valves, small perforating veins, reticular veins as small as 1 mm in diameter, and (with special 13-MHz probes) even tiny lymphatic channels.

Direct contrast venography

In direct contrast venography, an intravenous catheter is placed in a dorsal vein of the foot, and radiographic contrast material is infused into the vein. X-rays are then used to obtain an image of the superficial venous anatomy. If deep vein imaging is desired, a superficial tourniquet is placed around the leg to occlude the superficial veins, and contrast material is forced into the deep veins. Assessment of reflux can be difficult because it requires passing a catheter from ankle to groin, with selective introduction of contrast material into each vein segment.

Direct contrast venography is a labor-intensive and invasive venous imaging technique that carries a 15% risk of new venous thrombosis developing from the procedure itself. It is rarely used in current practice and has largely been supplanted by duplex ultrasonography. Its use is reserved for difficult or confusing cases.



The clinical-etiologic-anatomic-pathophysiologic (CEAP) classification formulated by the American Venous Forum, last revised in 2004,[20] is used to standardize recording of venous disease. Each of the four components of this classification is assessed individually, and the components are combined to determine the CEAP classification.

The clinical component of the CEAP classification is assessed as follows:

  • C 0 - No visible or palpable signs of venous disease
  • C 1 - Telangiectases or reticular veins
  • C 2 - Varicose veins
  • C 3 - Edema
  • C 4a - Pigmentation or eczema
  • C 4b - Lipodermatosclerosis or atrophie blanche
  • C 5 - Healed venous ulcer
  • C 6 - Active venous ulcer
  • S – Symptomatic, includes ache, pain, tightness, skin irritation, heaviness, and muscle cramps, and other complaints attributable to venous dysfunction
  • A - Asymptomatic

The etiologic component of the CEAP classification is assessed as follows:

  • E c - Congenital
  • E p - Primary
  • E s - Secondary (postthrombotic)
  • E n - No venous cause identified

The anatomic component of the CEAP classification is assessed as follows:

  • A s - Superficial veins
  • A p - Perforator veins
  • A d - Deep veins
  • A n - No venous location identified

The pathophysiologic component of the CEAP classification is assessed in two ways, basic and advanced. The basic approach to this component includes the following:

  • P r - Reflux
  • P o - Obstruction
  • P r,o – Reflux and obstruction
  • P n - No venous pathophysiology identifiable

The advanced approach is the same as the basic one, with the additional option that any of 18 named superficial, deep, or perforating venous segments can be used as locators for venous pathology. The superficial veins that can be used, with their assigned numbers, are as follows:

  • Telangiectasias or reticular veins (1)
  • GSV above the knee (2)
  • GSV below the knee (3)
  • Small saphenous vein (SSV) (4)
  • Nonsaphenous veins (5)

The deep veins that can be used, with their assigned numbers, are as follows:

  • IVC (6)
  • Common iliac vein (7)
  • Internal iliac vein (8)
  • External iliac vein (9)
  • Pelvic veins - Gonadal, broad ligament veins, other (10)
  • Common femoral vein (11)
  • Deep femoral vein (12)
  • Femoral vein (13)
  • Popliteal vein (14)
  • Crural veins - Anterior tibial, posterior tibial, peroneal veins (all paired) (15)
  • Muscular veins - Gastrocnemial, soleal veins, other (16)

The perforating veins that can be used, with their assigned numbers, are as follows

  • Thigh (17)
  • Calf (18)

The following example illustrates the difference between the two approaches.[20] A patient has painful swelling of the leg, and varicose veins, lipodermatosclerosis, and active ulceration. Duplex US on May 17, 2004, shows axial reflux of the GSV above and below the knee, incompetent calf perforator veins, and axial reflux in the femoral and popliteal veins. No signs of postthrombotic obstruction are present. The basic and advanced CEAP classifications for this patient are as follows:

  • Basic CEAP - C 6,S, E p,A s,p,d, P r
  • Advanced CEAP - C 2,3,4b,6,S, E p,A s,p,d, P r2,3,18,13,14 (2004-05-17, L II)
Contributor Information and Disclosures

Wesley K Lew, MD Fellow, Department of Vascular Surgery, University of California, Los Angeles

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Fred A Weaver, MD, MMM Professor of Surgery, Chief, Division of Vascular Surgery and Endovascular Therapy, Co-Director USC CardioVascular Thoracic Institute; Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California

Fred A Weaver, MD, MMM is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Association for the Surgery of Trauma, American College of Surgeons, American Heart Association, American Surgical Association, Association for Academic Surgery, Phi Beta Kappa, Society for Vascular Surgery, Society of University Surgeons, Western Surgical Association, Vascular and Endovascular Surgery Society, Society for Clinical Vascular Surgery

Disclosure: Received consulting fee from CVRx for review panel membership.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Vincent Lopez Rowe, MD Professor of Surgery, Program Director, Vascular Surgery Residency, Department of Surgery, Division of Vascular Surgery, Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California

Vincent Lopez Rowe, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Surgeons, American Heart Association, Society for Vascular Surgery, Vascular and Endovascular Surgery Society, Society for Clinical Vascular Surgery, Pacific Coast Surgical Association, Western Vascular Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Vincent Lopez Rowe, MD Professor of Surgery, Program Director, Vascular Surgery Residency, Department of Surgery, Division of Vascular Surgery, Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California

Vincent Lopez Rowe, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Surgeons, American Heart Association, Society for Vascular Surgery, Vascular and Endovascular Surgery Society, Society for Clinical Vascular Surgery, Pacific Coast Surgical Association, Western Vascular Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Craig F Feied, MD, FACEP, FAAEM, FACPh Professor of Emergency Medicine, Georgetown University School of Medicine; General Manager, Microsoft Enterprise Health Solutions Group

Craig F Feied, MD, FACEP, FAAEM, FACPh is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Emergency Medicine, American College of Emergency Physicians, American College of Phlebology, American College of Physicians, American Medical Association, American Medical Informatics Association, American Venous Forum, Medical Society of the District of Columbia, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, and Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Pathway leading to varicose veins and other clinical manifestations of venous hypertension.
Reticular veins.
Varicose veins.
Venous stasis ulcer.
Schematic diagram of the deep and superficial venous systems of the lower extremity: (1) Normal venous drainage; arrows depict the flow of venous blood. (2) Venous hypertension bold arrows are pathways of venous reflux.
Named perforators along the greater saphenous distribution.
Major tributaries of the greater saphenous system.
Saphenofemoral junction.
Perforation-invagination (PIN) stripping schematic.
Ultrasound image of the GSV after foam sclerotherapy treatment. Note the hyperechogenicity within the vein is from the foam.
Varisolve canister and appearance of foam with polidocanol.
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