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What is radiofrequency ablation (RFA)?

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a minimally invasive procedure that uses radio frequency energy to treat varicose veins. During treatment, heat is sent into the veins via a thin, flexible tune, which closes off blood flow and reroutes the blood to healthier veins.

Why it's done

We typically use this procedure to treat an incompetent saphenous vein. This includes the greater saphenous vein, which runs along the inside of the thigh and calf, and the lesser saphenous vein, which runs along the back of the calf. These veins are long and responsible for circulating blood from the legs to other parts of the body. If these veins do not function properly, it can lead to the development of varicose veins—twisted, swollen, discolored veins—due to a buildup of pressure. RFA allows us to correct the problem by heating the walls of the saphenous vein with radiofrequency energy, correcting the backwards flow of blood and closing off varicose veins from its supply. This forces blood to healthier veins, causing the varicose veins to disappear.

Our approach

Our vascular experts are committed to giving you the leading-edge care you deserve. That’s why we take the time to carefully craft a customized treatment plan that addresses your individual condition. We begin by performing diagnostic studies and tests to determine whether your vein has a level of insufficiency that warrants RFA. If it does, we use the latest, cutting-edge techniques to deliver an effective procedure that improves your overall quality of life. Our professionals will also work with you to manage lifestyle factors to reduce the risk of complications, such as regular exercise, smoking cessation and healthy weight management.

Success statistics

While RFA can require multiple sessions to effectively close off varicose veins, our experts are extremely successful in eliminating them on first treatment. More than 92 percent of veins we treat are closed following one session.

Complications

As with any procedure, there are some complications to consider. The most significant of these is a blood clot known as deep vein thrombosis, which can form if heat is applied too closely to the deep vein. We may prescribe a blood thinner to diminish this risk.  

Other risks associated with RFA include:

  • Infection
  • Nerve damage
  • Vein inflammation, known as thrombophlebitis, which could cause pain and discoloration
  • A blood clot which travels to the lungs, known as pulmonary embolism

What to expect

We start off by placing a tiny tube (catheter) into your vein, typically around the knee area, under local anesthesia. Once inserted, we use ultrasound technology to guide the catheter to the groin area. The end of the catheter is then heated with radiofrequency energy, which molecularly changes the wall of the vein so blood can’t flow back into it. With no blood flowing to them, the damaged veins will disappear entirely. We close out by removing the catheter and applying a bandage. This process may differ slightly depending on the vein being treated, but the overall approach and result are the same.

How to prepare

Being evaluated by a vascular surgeon is essential when preparing to undergo RFA. Our team of highly skilled professionals have the training and experience needed to properly evaluate you, meaning you’ll receive the right treatment at the right time.

Recovery

The recovery process is quick and relatively painless. You’ll need to wear a bandage for a few days, sometimes a week. In some cases, we may also suggest compression stockings. We encourage you to be up and active during recovery to reduce the risk of blood clots.

Follow-up care

We’ll schedule a follow-up appointment a week after the treatment to ensure no complications have developed, specifically blood clots. Once you’ve gotten a clean bill of health, we ask that you continue to prioritize your care by making any lifestyle modifications necessary to prevent new varicose veins from forming, such as quitting smoking and maintaining a healthy weight.

Possible side effects

Most patients experience no side effects. However, the heat applied during RFA can cause the skin to experience pain, inflammation and tenderness. We work diligently to avoid this by injecting fluid around the vein to keep heat from transmitting to the skin, as well as by being cautious when administering the heat.

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