Radio frequency ablation is a minimally invasive alternative to vein stripping for the treatment of varicose veins and its common underlying cause, venous reflux. Varicose veins are swollen, dark blue or purple blood vessels that you can see and feel beneath the skin. They often look like twisted cords and appear on the thighs and calves.
Varicose veins form when the valves within a vein falter and allow some blood to flow backward. The vein weakens under the additional strain and balloons outward, raising the skin surface. This is not only a cosmetic problem, but if the reflux progresses to chronic venous insufficiency, it becomes a medical issue as well. That condition can cause serious symptoms including swelling and pain in the legs, leg fatigue and skin ulcerations. Give Premiere Heart and Vein Care a call at (805) 540-3333 to learn more about whether Radiofrequency Ablation is right for you!
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF RADIOFREQUENCY ABLATION?
Instead of surgically removing the diseased vein, the radiofrequency ablation procedure delivers radio frequency (RF) energy via a catheter to the defective vein. The RF energy causes the collagen to heat and then shrink. This contraction results in collapse and closure of the vein. Radiofrequency ablation offers several benefits over vein stripping and other treatment methods including faster treatment and recovery time, less discomfort during and after the procedure, and little or no scarring, bruising or swelling. Additionally, it allows patients to avoid the risks of undergoing invasive groin surgery and having general anesthesia.
Radiofrequency ablation features advantages when compared to various forms of laser ablation treatment as well. Traditional laser ablation heats the blood within the affected vein to extremely high temperatures, at which point a steam bubble develops. This damages the vein and causes it to collapse. But this intense heat can do harm to the vein walls, which may result in the patient suffering from considerable bruising and pain following the procedure. Radiofrequency ablation, on the other hand, employs controlled, consistent heat at 120 degrees Celsius that gently and safely contracts and seals the affected veins. This leaves the vein walls undamaged and intact, greatly reducing the likelihood of pain or bruising in radiofrequency ablation patients.
RF Ablation Before and After
What is the success rate for using radiofrequency ablation to remove varicose veins?
These treatments with Dr. Stevens have an amazing success rate for our patients from across the Central Coast. But don’t take our word for it. The American Society for Dermatologic Surgery says radiofrequency ablation for varicose veins has a 98 percent success rate. Unlike the surgical methods formerly used to remove varicose veins, RF ablation is just as effective without any of the downtime or recovery.
Who is a Candidate for Radiofrequency Ablation?
The radiofrequency ablation procedure can be an effective treatment method for adults of all ages who have been diagnosed with varicose veins and chronic venous insufficiency. Both men and women may be good candidates for the procedure. After a thorough evaluation, Dr Stevens can determine whether this form of therapy is the best option for your specific needs.
Does radiofrequency ablation hurt?
Dr. Stevens applies local anesthetic, both to the area of the initial tiny incision, and then along the treatment area of the vein. You should feel nothing during the actual procedure. Afterwards, you can have some minor soreness for up to a week or so, but it is minimal and easily managed with over-the-counter ibuprofen, Tylenol, or Voltaren gel.
Because radiofrequency ablation uses lower temperatures than endovenous laser ablation, our patients find radiofrequency ablation to be more comfortable after treatment compared to the laser option.
Will I be awake during radiofrequency ablation?
Yes. These treatments use only local anesthetic to numb the varicose vein being closed off with the radiofrequency energy.
The Radiofrequency Ablation Procedure
A radiofrequency ablation procedure can be performed under local anesthesia as an in-office treatment. It is typically completed in 45 minutes to an hour. Local anesthetic and tumescent anesthesia are injected to numb the leg, and Dr Stevens will make a very small incision just below the knee. A catheter is inserted through this incision after an introducer is placed. Ultrasound imaging is used to locate the treatment site and guide the catheter. Dr Stevens then delivers a 20-second pulse of radiofrequency energy and, after confirming with the imaging that the vein has been fully closed, withdraws the catheter. If necessary, the catheter may be reinserted numerous times to apply the RF energy to multiple areas of diseased vein.
How to prepare for radiofrequency ablation?
You don’t need to do anything in preparation for these treatments with Dr. Stevens, other than being well hydrated, taking your medications except as prescribed, and having a good meal 2-3 hours prior to the procedure.
What happens after my RF Ablation treatment?
We’ll put you in compression stockings immediately after your procedure. These stockings help ensure the vein stays closed and jumpstarts the process of the body eventually absorbing the now-unused vein. You’ll wear your stockings overnight for the first 3-4 days. After that, you’ll wear them during the day for at least one week.
Before you leave our office, you’ll be directed to take a 20–30-minute walk. Then you can drive home. From there, walking at least 30 minutes each day is mandatory. If you need medication to manage anxiety, then you will need a driver.
You can return to normal activities immediately but should avoid standing still for long periods, and you’ll need to avoid long-haul flights for at least 3-4 weeks.
Dr. Stevens will have you return for an ultrasound check of your treated veins within a week after your treatment, and office follow up starts in 1 month.
How long after radiofrequency ablation will my varicose veins disappear?
Once the radiofrequency energy causes your varicose vein to close, the vein begins the process of closing down because it no longer has any blood in it. This process of changing from an active, although dysfunctional, vein to a closed vein takes anywhere from 10-14 days. At that point, your body gets down to the business of absorbing the vein. This process varies between different people, but the final result will be visible (actually not visible!) after a few months.
Recovery from RF Ablation
After the procedure, blood is naturally re-routed through other, healthier veins in the body. The sealed vein is eventually absorbed naturally into the surrounding tissues in the leg. There is little to no scarring after treatment with radiofrequency ablation, and patients report very few complications such as pain or bruising. Any side effects of swelling or bruising that do occur are typically quite mild and resolve completely within two weeks.
For several weeks following the procedure, patients will be instructed to avoid standing for long periods of time and refrain from taking part in strenuous activities. However, walking is beneficial and is recommended to promote the healing process.
Risks of Radiofrequency Ablation
Radiofrequency ablation is considered a very safe procedure with an extremely low incidence of complications. However, all medical procedures do carry some form of risk and those associated with radiofrequency ablation include thrombosis, vessel perforation, pulmonary embolism, phlebitis, hematoma, infections, numbness or skin burn. These complications are rare and their risk can be further reduced by choosing a physician experienced in performing procedures. Dr Stevens and his staff have performed the procedure over several thousand times since 2010 with excellent results. Radiofrequency ablation has been used to treat varicose veins for approximately 20 years, with extensive worldwide experience.
What happens if I don’t have my varicose veins treated?
Many people are under the false assumption that their varicose veins are purely an aesthetic issue. While they may not like the look of their bulging veins, they don’t think of them as a health issue. They lump varicose veins in with spider veins, which are purely aesthetic.
Varicose veins can cause health problems. Simply covering them by wearing long pants isn’t a good idea for your health. When you leave varicose veins untreated, the blood continues to pool in the veins. There isn’t any way malfunctioning veins can suddenly return to normal. Untreated varicose veins can lead to a variety of health problems:
- Increased pain and swelling — As your veins continue to allow blood to pool, any pain you’ve been experiencing will only increase.
- Symptoms will come — You may not have any pain or heaviness from your varicose veins yet but allowing them to remain in place will likely lead to those issues over time.
- Fatigue and weakness — Because your varicose veins aren’t effectively moving de-oxygenated blood out of the legs, this leads to fatigue that develops more and more quickly. If you have a job that requires being on your feet, this will be a big problem. And if you’re used to activities such as hiking or walking, you’ll be able to do less and less of those.
- Ulcers — When you have a few varicose veins, the lack of healthy oxygen supply to the lower legs and feet can allow a cut to become ulcerated. Wounds take longer to heal or may not heal.
- Thrombosis — Varicose veins allow blood to sometimes form clots, as it isn’t moving fast enough through the blood vessel. Dangerous conditions such as deep vein thrombosis can follow.