The autologous saphenous vein is widely recognised as the graft material of choice in infra-inguinal arterial reconstructions. This study was undertaken to evaluate the long-term results of long saphenous vein saving surgery compared with standard stripping. Forty-two patients with varicose veins were randomly allocated to treatment, either with standard stripping of the long saphenous vein or high ligation. In both groups, local varicosities were avulsed and insufficient perforators ligated, on the basis of physical examination and phlebography. Follow-up was performed 52 +/- 5 months postoperatively. The recurrence rate was 12 and 11% in the stripping and the high ligation group respectively. At follow-up, the venous return time was increased significantly in both groups (P greater than 0.001). Vein mapping by means of high-resolution, real-time ultrasound at follow-up showed that 78% of the preserved saphenous veins were suitable for use as arterial conduits. These results suggest that removal of the long saphenous vein per se is of no therapeutic value if insufficient perforators have been ligated. It is possible to perform elective vein surgery for varicose veins with good results and preserve the long saphenous vein, which in turn can be used for future arterial reconstruction in most cases.