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.
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.
Candidates 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.
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.
Recovery from radiofrequency 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