Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a minimally invasive procedure suitable for treating trunk varicose veins – the thick, lumpy veins visible below the skin’s surface. The process is often used in conjunction with ultrasound-guided foam sclerotherapy (UGFS), which effectively treats trunk varicose veins and reticular veins that are less lumpy and lie in the deeper layers of the skin. RFA and UGFS treatments work together to relieve the major symptoms of varicose veins and improve their appearance.
Benefits of radiofrequency ablation over alternative treatments
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends RFA as the first line of treatment for varicose veins. When used in conjunction with UGFS (if required), it has several advantages over alternative treatments, including:
- Leaves minimal scarring, bruising and swelling
- Less invasive than surgery, with significantly faster recovery times
- Walk-in-walk-out procedure
- Less painful and more convenient than endovenous laser ablation (EVLA)
What does radiofrequency ablation involve?
RFA is a walk-in-walk-out outpatient procedure that is performed under local anaesthetic and takes less than an hour. It uses radiofrequency energy to heat the vein’s wall so that it collapses, closes and seals up. Your body will eventually absorb the dead tissue, and the treated veins will disappear.
The radiofrequency ablation procedure
You will first have an ultrasound scan to identify the veins requiring treatment. Then, under local anaesthetic and guided by ultrasound for precision, a thin plastic tube is inserted into the vein. A fine wire with the heating element at its tip is passed through the plastic tube. Once all veins have been treated, the tube is removed, and the treated area is bandaged using a full-length compression stocking.
Your consultant will usually arrange to see you in the clinic approximately four weeks after treatment to check that healing is progressing as it should.
RFA recovery time
Depending on how active your job is, you should be able to return to work straight away after treatment.
You should avoid driving on the day of the procedure. After that, you can drive as soon as you can make an emergency stop. When the left leg (clutch leg) has been treated, it’s safe to return to driving the day after treatment. When the right leg (emergency stop leg) has been treated, it is advisable to avoid driving while the bandage is in place (2 days), as this will hamper your ability to do an emergency stop.
Walking and running
Walking is an excellent post-procedure exercise as it encourages blood circulation in your legs and promotes the healing process. It is best to avoid more vigorous exercise such as jogging, aerobics or gym work-outs until after your follow-up appointment.
Swimming and cycling
Light, low-impact exercise such as swimming and cycling is good for vein health. Swimming is fine once the bandages have been removed as long as you wear your stocking. The same applies to cycling, but avoid strenuous cycling until after your follow-up appointment.
Avoid flying for six weeks after treatment, particularly if you plan to fly long haul (over 8 hours).
Radiofrequency ablation risks and side effects
Radiofrequency ablation is a low-risk, routine procedure for treating varicose veins. Some patients will experience minor side effects, such as:
- Mild discomfort – this is temporary and can be relieved by over-the-counter pain medication such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.
- Temporary bruising – this disappears within a few weeks.
- Pigmentation – a small proportion of patients may develop brown streaks over the area where the varicose veins existed. This pigmentation gradually fades over 6 to 12 months.
- Lumps – some lumps or lumpiness may be felt beneath the skin over areas where the veins were treated, particularly where the varicose veins were large. They will gradually disappear over the next 6 to 12 months. Sometimes the lumpiness can be reduced by withdrawing a small volume of trapped blood from the treated vein a few weeks after treatment.
- Thrombophlebitis – where the varicose veins have been lumpy, some patients may develop a painful red lump over the position of one or more of those veins. This is called superficial thrombophlebitis. It can be treated with anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen and will settle down after 1 or 2 weeks. Again, this can be treated by withdrawing a small volume of trapped blood from the treated vein a few weeks after treatment.
- Numbness – this only affects the skin area where the vein(s) were treated.
- Headache – this is temporary and can be treated with paracetamol
- Minor bleeding – a very small amount of bleeding onto the stocking during the first 24 hours post-procedure
Complications are rare for patients undergoing RFA, but there is a small risk of developing:
- Deep vein thrombosis (1 in 200 or 0.5%)
- Stroke – extremely rare
- Mild allergic reaction
- Transient visual disturbance
- Coughing and/or chest tightness
You will have the opportunity to ask questions and discuss any concerns you have about potential risks and side effects at your consultation.
How much does RFA cost?
Prices and pricing structures vary from clinic to clinic. You can avoid being faced with any hidden costs by asking for an upfront fixed-price quote at your consultation.
Contact us for more information
Premier Veins offers a range of walk-in-walk-out treatments for varicose veins and thread veins. If you would like to talk to us about our treatment packages or book a FREE mini-consultation, please contact our friendly reception team who will be happy to help.
Call us: 0121 769 2646
Email us: [email protected]