Varicose Veins: Radiofrequency Ablation

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Topic Overview

Radiofrequency ablation is a minimally invasive treatment for varicose veins. (Ablation means a doctor uses heat to damage tissue, which makes scar tissue form. This scar tissue closes the vein.) This technique uses radiofrequency energy (instead of laser energy) to heat up and damage the wall inside a vein. This usually closes off a varicose vein in the leg.

To treat a varicose vein, radiofrequency energy is directed through a thin tube (catheter) inserted through a small incision in the vein. It can be used on large veins in the leg and can be done in an office setting using local anesthesia or a mild sedative. You will be able to walk following the treatment and recovery typically is short.

After treatment, you will wear compression stockings for 1 week or more. To follow up, your doctor will use duplex ultrasound to make sure that the vein is closed.

Is it safe?

Possible side effects of radiofrequency ablation include:

  • Skin burns.
  • Feelings of burning, pain, or prickling after recovery, from nerve damage (less likely than after vein stripping surgery).
  • Small or large blood clotting in the vein or a deep vein (less likely than after vein stripping surgery).

The more experience your doctor has had with radiofrequency, the less risk you are likely to have. Talk to your doctor about how often these side effects happen in his or her practice.

How well does it work?

Radiofrequency ablation closes off varicose veins in about 88 out of 100 people. That means it doesn't work in about 12 out of 100 people.footnote 1

  • Pain after treatment is typically less after ablation than after vein surgery.
  • Veins that do not close are treated again. Choices include another ablation or another type of procedure.

For help deciding whether to have a procedure for varicose veins, see:

Varicose Veins: Should I Have a Surgical Procedure?

If you are thinking of radiofrequency ablation treatment, consider some questions to ask about varicose vein treatment. These questions include: How much experience does the doctor have with the particular treatment? How much do the exam and treatment cost? How many treatments does the doctor think you will need?

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References

Citations

  1. Van den Bos R, et al. (2009). Endovenous therapies of lower extremity varicosities: A meta-analysis. Journal of Vascular Surgery, 49(1): 230–239.

Other Works Consulted

  • Khilnani NM, et al. (2010). Multi-society consensus quality improvement guidelines for the treatment of lower extremity superficial venous insufficiency with endovenous thermal ablation from the Society of Interventional Radiology, Cardiovascular Interventional Radiological Society of Europe, American College of Phlebology, and Canadian Interventional Radiology Association. Journal of Vascular and Interventional Radiology, 21(1): 14–31.

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerDavid A. Szalay, MD - Vascular Surgery

Current as ofFebruary 5, 2015