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
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.
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:
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?
When done by a doctor with plenty of radiofrequency experience,
chances of treatment success are good. Radiofrequency closure works well in about 97 out of 100 people who have it. That means it doesn't work well in 3 out of 100
Pain after treatment is typically less after ablation
than after vein surgery.
After 2 years or more, results from ablation are generally as good as from vein
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:
If you are thinking of radiofrequency ablation treatment,
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?
Creton D, et al. (2010). Radiofrequency-powered segmental thermal obliteration carried out with the ClosureFast procedure: Results at 1 year. Annals of Vascular Surgery, 24(3): 360–366.
Golan JF, et al. (2007). Varicose vein surgery. ACS Surgery: Principles and Practice, 6th ed., pp. 1177–1187. New York: WebMD.
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.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.