Varicose Vein Frequently Asked Questions

What is Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA)?

The radiofrequency ablation procedure is a minimally invasive treatment for superficial venous reflux. A thin catheter is inserted into the vein through a small opening. The catheter delivers thermal energy to the vein wall, causing it to heat, collapse, and seal shut. It is also known as radiofrequency ablation (RFA).

How Does It Work to Treat Superficial Venous Reflux?

Since valves can’t be repaired easily, the only alternative is to re-route blood flow through healthy veins. Traditionally, this has been done by surgically removing (stripping) the troublesome vein from your leg. The radiofrequency ablation procedure provides a less invasive alternative to vein stripping by simply closing the problem vein instead. Once the diseased vein is closed, other healthy veins take over and empty blood from your legs.

How is the Radiofrequency Ablation Procedure Different From Vein Stripping?

During a stripping procedure, a surgeon makes an incision in your groin and ties off the vein, after which a stripper tool is threaded through the saphenous vein and used to pull the vein out of your leg through a second incision just above your calf. In the radiofrequency ablation procedure, there is no need for surgery. Instead, the vein remains in place and is closed using a special catheter inserted through a small incision. This may eliminate the bruising and pain often associated with vein stripping (i.e., that may result from the tearing of side branch veins while the saphenous vein is pulled out). Vein stripping is usually performed in an operating room, under a general anesthetic, while the radiofrequency ablation procedure is performed on an outpatient basis using local anesthesia.

Is the Radiofrequency Ablation Procedure Painful? When Can I Resume Activity?

Although some people are more sensitive than others, patients generally report little pain both during the procedure and post procedure as well. Immediately post procedure patients are asked to go for a brief walk to immediately access the result. Many patients typically return to normal activities within a few days. For a few weeks following the treatment, we recommend a regular walking regimen, usually 30-60 minutes once or twice daily, and suggest you refrain from very strenuous activities (heavy lifting, for example) or prolonged periods of standing. Specific questions regarding exercise and work activities should be addressed with Dr Stevens.

Is There Any Scarring, Bruising, or Swelling After the Radiofrequency Ablation Procedure?

Patients report minimal to no scarring, bruising, or swelling following the radiofrequency ablation procedure.

Are There Any Potential Risks and Complications Associated With Radiofrequency Ablation?

As with any medical intervention, potential risks and complications exist with the radiofrequency ablation procedure. All patients should consult their doctors to determine if their conditions present any special risks. Dr Stevens will review potential complications of the radiofrequency ablation procedure at the consultation and can be reviewed in the safety summary. Potential complications can include vessel perforation, thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, phlebitis, hematoma, infection, adjacent nerve injury (tingling or numbness) and/or skin burn.

Is the Radiofrequency Ablation Procedure Suitable for Everyone?

Only a physician can tell you if the RFA procedure is a viable option for your vein problem. Experience has shown that many patients with superficial venous reflux disease can be treated with RFA, with over 1,000,000 patients treated worldwide to date over the last 15 years.

Is RFA Covered by My Insurance?

Many insurance companies are paying for the RFA procedure in part or in full. Most insurance companies determine coverage for all treatments, including the RFA procedure, based on medical necessity. The RFA procedure has positive coverage policies with most major health insurers. We can discuss your insurance coverage further at the time of consultation coordinated with our billing department.

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