About one third of the adult population is affected by varicose veins. These swollen, often painful veins in the legs are due primarily to incompetence of the valves in the femoral and great saphenous veins. Previously, vein stripping, or surgically removing these large veins under general anesthesia through small incisions, was the preferred treatment. Now, newer techniques like radiofrequency ablation allow for minimally invasive treatment in an outpatient or office setting with only local anesthesia and/or intravenous sedation.
Radiofrequency ablation is easily performed in an office setting with a small puncture site, following anesthetic. The local anesthetic is administered at the insertion site for a catheter or small tube to be threaded through the great saphenous vein, using sonographic imaging for guidance. The anesthetic is also injected along the vein while the patient is given IV sedation to make the procedure more comfortable. The catheter is withdrawn down the great saphenous vein as the radiofrequency ablation is performed, using sound waves to heat the vein to 185 degrees. The heating process collapses the vein and forms scar tissue which will later be absorbed by the body as healing takes place. Following the radiofrequency ablation procedure, the leg is wrapped in a tight compression bandage and compression hose are worn for two to three weeks while healing occurs.
After a short recovery time due to the mild sedation, the patient is able to resume activities without incident. Minor side effects, such as numbness and skin discoloration, can occur. In other cases, the procedure may not fully ablate the vein. Studies have shown this procedure is comparable to vein stripping with less pain, no incisions and faster return to normal function while effectively relieving the symptoms of varicose veins.
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