Radiofrequency Ablation for Varicose Veins

Treatment Overview

Radiofrequency ablation is a minimally invasive treatment for varicose veins. (Ablation means a doctor uses heat to damage tissue. This makes scar tissue form. The 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. It can be done in an office setting using local anesthesia or a mild sedative. You will be able to walk after the treatment. 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.

How Well It Works

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.

Risks

Possible risks of radiofrequency ablation include:

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

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.

Credits

Current as of: March 28, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
David A. Szalay MD - Vascular Surgery