What is radiofrequency occlusion?
Radiofrequency occlusion, also referred to as radiofrequency ablation, is a minimally-invasive treatment used to eliminate bothersome varicose veins. The procedure has replaced more invasive vein stripping for many patients, offering similar cosmetic results with less discomfort and downtime. Instead of removing the diseased vein from the leg, radiofrequency occlusion seals the vein shut so no blood can pass through. The treated vein is eventually reabsorbed by the body and blood flow is rerouted through healthy veins nearby.
Veins are treated with radiofrequency energy, which damages the vein walls to the vessel seals shut. The energy is administered directly into the diseased vein via a narrow catheter. Since energy goes directly into the vein, no vessels or tissue nearby are damaged during the procedure. The catheter may be inserted using a tiny nick to the skin, so there are no stitches or scarring to worry about afterward.
Ultrasound technology is used to guide the catheter into the vein during treatment. Ultrasound uses sound waves to create an image of the vessel so that the physician can pinpoint the location to insert the catheter. Ultrasound imaging can also be used after the procedure to gauge the result of treatment and monitor blood flow in the area.
When is it done?
Radiofrequency occlusion may be performed on larger veins located deep beneath the skin’s surface. When these veins become varicose, they may be accompanied by uncomfortable symptoms, including heaviness or achiness in the legs, swelling and a burning sensation around the affected vein. When left untreated, varicose veins may lead to the formation of skin ulcers on the lower leg, which can be very difficult to treat and have a high recurrence rate.
Radiofrequency occlusion eliminates uncomfortable symptoms at the same time it eliminates the affected vein. Most patients will experience relief from symptoms before the diseased vein disappears completely. Cosmetic results also lead patients to seek radiofrequency occlusion to eliminate the appearance of unsightly varicose veins for a smoother, younger look to the legs.
How does the procedure work?
Radiofrequency occlusion is performed in a physician’s office or surgical suite as an outpatient procedure. The patient may be given a local or topical anesthetic and possible sedation to maximize comfort during the procedure. The area to be treated is sterilized and marked, using ultrasound imaging to pinpoint the location of the vein.
Once the area is prepared, the physician inserts a narrow catheter through the leg and into the vein. Radiofrequency energy is then administered to the affected vein and the catheter is slowly removed. A compression bandage may be applied immediately afterward, which will be replaced with a compression stocking to aid the healing process and promote healthy blood flow.
The entire procedure typically takes an hour or less to complete. Most physicians will treat one vein at a time using radiofrequency occlusion, recommending repeat sessions to address additional veins. Patients are usually observed for a short time after the procedure, to ensure excessive bleeding or other side effects do not occur.
What is the recovery like?
Patients are sent home the same day and encouraged to walk regularly in the days following the procedure. Normal activities can often be resumed immediately after the procedure, although strenuous exercise and heavy lifting is not recommended for a few days to a few weeks. There may be mild swelling and bruising around the entry site for the catheter, which may be effectively treated using over-the-counter medication and ice. Compression stockings also help to keep swelling and bruising to a minimum.
When will the results appear?
Relief from symptoms may be evident soon after the procedure. Varicose veins typically take up to one week to close completely after radiofrequency occlusion. While they become less visible during that time, it may take a bit longer for the veins to disappear completely.
How many treatment sessions are needed?
Only one session of radiofrequency occlusion is usually needed to effectively treat a varicose vein. However, additional sessions may be recommended if there is more than one vein to address. Other treatments may also be recommended in combination with radiofrequency occlusion to achieve desired results.
Will veins reappear after treatment?
A treated vein will not reappear after radiofrequency occlusion. However, if the risk factors that led to the first varicose vein are still present, additional veins may appear in the same area over time. These veins can be addressed with radiofrequency occlusion or other vein treatments as they appear.
What is the cost of radiofrequency occlusion?
The cost of radiofrequency occlusion depends on a number of factors, including the size and number of veins to be treated and the location of the physician. The procedure is generally slightly more than standard laser ablation, which runs anywhere from $600 to $3,000. If symptoms accompany the diseased vein, insurance is likely to cover at least a portion of the cost.