Radiofrequency Ablation

Radiofrequency Ablation Diagram

What is Radiofrequency Ablation for Varicose Veins?

Radiofrequency Ablation is a minimally invasive treatment that uses radiofrequency energy to treat varicose veins, as well as the underlying cause of vein disease and symptoms.  

Symptoms related to varicose veins that can be relieved by treatment include:

  • Swelling
  • Aching or throbbing pain
  • Skin irritation or sores (ulcers)
  • Skin irritation or discoloration
  • Inflammation in the vein (phlebitis)

Do You Have Vein Disease Symptoms?

How Radiofrequency Treats Varicose Veins?

Ultrasound is used to locate the unhealthy vein.  Once found, a small dose of local anesthetic is applied, and the vein doctor begins the process of eliminating the vein. Your doctor will use a tiny tube called a catheter which is inserted directly into the diseased vein.  Once in position, the catheter will deliver a pulse of thermal energy into the vein causing the collagen in the vein wall to contract, weaken, and then collapse shut.  

How is Radiofrequency Ablation Performed?

Before the procedure, an area of your leg will be cleaned and prepped for a local anesthetic.

A slight pinprick will be felt as a needle is used to inject a local anesthetic at the vein access site.

Your doctor will use ultrasound to visualize and direct the radiofrequency electrode, via a catheter, into the correct position.  A local anesthetic will be injected into the vein to collapse the walls of the vein around the laser.

Once the radiofrequency energy is directed into the vein, the thermal energy causes the walls of the vein to collapse and seal shut.

At this time, you may experience some pressure, but not pain.  

In fact, most patients report that the most uncomfortable part of treatment is the injection of the local anesthetic into the vein.

After the vein is collapsed and closed, a bandage will be placed over the incision site, and pressure will be applied to stop any bleeding.  

Your doctor will instruct you to wear compression stockings to help reduce swelling, bruising, and tenderness.  Compression stockings also prevent the possibility of developing blood clots.

The entire procedure is typically performed in 30 minutes to 1 hour.

What to Expect After Treatment?

Compression stockings will help reduce bruising, swelling and tenderness after your procedure.  

Tina got rid of painful, tired, cramping legs.

Most patients will return to their normal activities immediately following the procedure.  Activity such as walking and light exercise are encouraged to encourage circulation; however, strenuous exercise is not advised.

Prolonged sitting or air travel is not advised until you are cleared by your doctor post-treatment.

Your doctor will likely perform a follow-up ultrasound to confirm that the vein has closed successful and to check for any complications.  One week post-procedure, the treated vein should be permanently closed.

Who Is A Candidate for Radiofrequency Ablation?

Veins that are most successfully treated are reasonably large and straight veins in the legs.  

If you suffer from tortuous, large or small varicose veins, RFA is not the appropriate procedure. These types of veins will not allow the catheter to pass through successfully.

Speak with your doctor to determine what alternative treatments are available to address your symptoms.

Risks of Radiofrequency Ablation

As with all medical procedures that involve penetrating the skin, there are potential risks; however, the risk of complication from radiofrequency ablation is very low.

The potential risks associated with Radiofrequency Ablation:

  • Bruising or bleeding at the incision site.
  • Thermal (heat) damage to nerves.
  • A sensation of pain, burning, or prickling after recovery from nerve damage.
  • Inflammation of the vein.
  • Blood clotting in the vein.

The Benefits of Radiofrequency Ablation Treatment

Radiofrequency ablation is a safe, proven, and quick treatment for varicose veins.

Several benefits include:

  • No need for a surgical incision and less invasive.
  • The procedure is typically done in under an hour.
  • Minimal recovery time and most patients return to normal activities immediately.
  • Due to the tiny incision sites, scarring is unlikely.
  • Most treated veins remain invisible even 12 months post-procedure.

Frequently Asked Questions About Radiofrequency Ablation

Is Radiofrequency Ablation Painful?

Due to the use of the local anesthetic, patients rarely report any feeling of pain during the procedure.

What Is the Effectiveness of Radiofrequency Ablation?

Radiofrequency closure has demonstrated up to a 97% success rate overall.   

What is the Recovery time?

You can anticipate resuming your regular activities within 24 hours post-treatment.  Your doctor will advise you to refrain from strenuous activity for 2 weeks following the procedure.

Your doctor will advise you to wear compression stockings for the first 2 to 3 weeks following the surgery.

What are the side effects?

Side effects are minimal and typically resolve shortly after the procedure.  Patients may experience some bruising, swelling or tenderness.

It is advised that patients wear a compression stocking for 2 to 3 weeks post-procedure, as they will significantly reduce and minimize these side effects.  

Is Radiofrequency Ablation by Insurance?

Yes.  Most insurance companies, including MediCare, will cover all or a portion of this procedure.

Treatment of varicose veins and the underlying causes of vein disease is a diagnosed medical condition, requiring medically necessary treatment to improve symptoms related to venous reflux.  

Treatment for spider veins, with no additional symptoms, is considered to be a cosmetic procedure and is excluded from coverage under the majority of most insurance policies.

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