In simplest terms, ablation is the process of using heat to treat the tissues that close the blood flow in veins. In radiofrequency ablation or RFA, heat energy treats the damaged walls inside a vein that disrupts their normal functioning. This process closes off a varicose vein that is present in the legs.
In this process, the surgeon makes a tiny incision through which the radiofrequency energy is directed via a catheter. Through the catheter, electrical current and temperature of around 120 degrees Celsius are attained. The generated heat then destroys the vein and facilitates the normal flow of the blood. To ensure the success of the process, the surgeon tightly wraps the catheter so that the vein receives the required amount of compression.
What is the Procedure of Radiofrequency Ablation?
RFA is a very simple treatment procedure. The local anesthesia makes the varicose vein numb. To guide the RFA, the doctor might recommend a few imaging tests. A tiny incision is made in the vein through which the RFA fiber is inserted. The RFA fiber is then activated. The fiber consists of a 7cm long tip through which the RFA heat passes into the vein. This tip heats the walls of the damaged veins.
The procedure is quick and simple where the heat is generated for 20-40 seconds in the vein. The release of radiofrequency from the tip of the fiber creates a thermal reaction in the vein walls. This reaction helps in collapsing venous sclerosis with no pain and discomfort.
A Step-by-step Guide to Radiofrequency Ablation Procedure for Varicose Veins:
- The surgeon rubs a numbing cream on the skin around and near the damaged veins.
- Proper cleaning and scrubbing of the surgical site
- The area around the vein is sedated with anesthesia.
- A small nick in the skin to pass a catheter into the vein.
- Imaging tests like ultrasound in oder to guide the catheter.
- The doctor removes the radiofrequency tip when the catheter reaches the right place in the vein
- The heat passes into the damaged or blocked veins by the laser fiber or radio waves.
- The doctor removes the catheter after the process is over.
- The doctor closes the incision site with a bandage to prevent any bleeding.
- The patient is recommended to wear a compression stocking for the next few days.
How Effective is Radiofrequency Ablation?
Radiofrequency ablation is a highly effective minimally-invasive procedure that treats venous insufficiency without any major pain or discomfort. RFA is a way too advanced procedure in comparison to the conventional methods to treat varicose veins.
In the past, vascular surgeons used to treat varicose veins symptoms by the procedure called ‘vein stripping’ that involved noticeably large incisions on the legs. Though effective for varicose veins, vein stripping used to be quite painful and required several weeks for the patient to recover.
But with RFA, the pain after the treatment is comparatively lesser than open vein surgery. The results are permanent and no scars are visible after the surgery. The success rate of RFA is as high as 97 percent. Thich means, the process works well in 3 out of every 100 people.
Benefits of RFA:
- An excellent alternative to conventional vein stripping surgery
- Performed under local anesthesia
- Minimal to no discomfort
- No admission to hospital- daycare surgery
- Treatment of both legs in one session
RFA is a low-risk procedure. But, like any other surgical treatment, there could be side effects and complications in RFA too, although they are not very common.
Like any other surgery that penetrates the skin, RFA also carries the chances of infection. There can be a risk of the patient suffering from skin infection though the chance appears to be less than 1 in every 1000.
Possible side effects of RFA include skin burns, nerve damage, and feelings of burn on the skin. Sometimes, there might be blood clots in the vein too. There can be a little bleeding and bruising at the catheter site. These clots and wounds are not major and in most cases, do not require any medical intervention immediately.
What is the cost of Radiofrequency Ablation?
The cost of RFA in India primarily depends upon the type of ablation. Additionally, the cost of the whole treatment also depends upon the following factors:
– The severity of the symptoms
– The kind of hospital you choose to undergo the treatment (govt, private, super-specialty, etc)
– The consultation fee of the vascular surgeon
– Medicines and nursing care
– Diagnosis and medical tests
To know the exact possible breakdown of the cost, it is always best to have a detailed conversation with the medical coordinator of the hospital.
Who is the right candidate for RFA?
Venous insufficiency is the major cause of varicose veins. If any kind of bulging veins appears on the skin of the legs, the person should first seek consultation with an experienced vascular surgeon. The doctor would likely recommend an ultrasound before deciding the treatment.
The ultrasounds will help the doctor assess the size of the damaged vein and other factors to determine if RFA would be the right treatment for the problem. RFA is a minimally-invasive procedure and requires very little preparation.
There are no such restrictions while undergoing the procedure and the treatment works best for people of any gender. The process is a good choice if you have chronic pain in the legs or have arthritis joint pains.
However, the patient cannot undergo surgery in the following conditions:
– A case of severe skin infection from before
– If the patient has a history of blood clots
Although the symptoms may seem to be similar, every patient needs a different treatment approach for varicose veins. To know what would work in your favor, it is best to have a thorough consultation with a trained and experienced vascular surgeon.