REVIEW
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Injection sclerotherapy for varicose veins.

BACKGROUND: Injection sclerotherapy for varicose veins has been used widely since 1963, following popularisation of the technique by Fegan. The treatment aims to obliterate the lumen of varicose veins or thread veins, however, there is limited evidence regarding its efficacy.

OBJECTIVES: To determine whether sclerotherapy is effective in terms of symptomatic improvement and cosmetic appearance; has an acceptable complication rate; and to define rates of symptomatic or cosmetic varicose vein recurrence following sclerotherapy.

SEARCH STRATEGY: Publications describing randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of injection sclerotherapy for varicose veins (excluding comparisons with surgery) were sought through EMBASE and MEDLINE (from inception to March 2001) and hand-searching relevant journals, using the search strategy described by the Cochrane Peripheral Vascular Diseases Review Group. Bibliographies of papers identified were examined for further RCTs. Manufacturers of sclerosants were contacted for further trial information.

SELECTION CRITERIA: RCTs of injection sclerotherapy versus graduated compression stockings or 'observation', or comparing different sclerosants, doses and post-compression bandaging techniques on patients with symptomatic and/or cosmetic varicose veins or thread veins were considered for inclusion in the review.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Ten studies were included in the analysis. These compared: sodium tetradecyl sulphate (STD) versus an alternative sclerosant; sclerosant with or without local anaesthetic; application of Molefoam versus Sorbo pads to injection sites; elastic compression bandaging versus conventional bandaging; and short-term bandaging versus standard bandaging. Data were abstracted by both authors.

MAIN RESULTS: No RCTs compared sclerotherapy to graduated compression stockings or other non-surgical treatments. Two studies compared STD to alternative sclerosants and found no significant differences in outcome or complication rates. Adding local anaesthetic to sclerosant reduced the pain from injection (one study) but had no other effects. Comparison of Molefoam and Sorbo pad pressure dressings found no difference in outcome for erythema (redness) or successful sclerosis. The degree and duration of elastic compression had no significant effect on varicose vein recurrence rates, cosmetic appearance or symptomatic improvement. Increased compression prevented slipping of dressings but caused increased discomfort, as did increasing duration of compression.

REVIEWER'S CONCLUSIONS: Evidence from RCTs suggests that type of sclerosant, local pressure dressing, degree and length of compression have no significant effect on the efficacy of sclerotherapy for varicose veins. This supports the current place of sclerotherapy in modern clinical practice, which is usually limited to treatment of recurrent varicose veins following surgery, and thread veins. A comparison of surgery versus sclerotherapy would be valuable.

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