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People suffering from severe varicose veins used to have to endure a fairly complicated surgery known as vein stripping, which required general anesthesia. These days, a high-tech procedure known as radiofrequency ablation can treat varicose veins in a relatively short timeframe without the need for general anesthesia, or even “going under the knife.” This minimally invasive procedure takes place in a doctor’s office, not a hospital. It can truly change the lives of those dealing with large, unsightly, painful varicose veins.
Some people with varicose veins are at risk of developing potentially fatal deep vein thrombosis. This occurs when clots occur in the deep veins of the leg. These clots can break off and travel to the lung, resulting in a possibly fatal pulmonary embolism. Fortunately, most people with varicose veins are more likely to develop superficial blood clots, which hurt but do cause the same risk of death. If a doctor suspects a patient has deep vein thrombosis, treatment is an absolute necessity. Patients diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis should limit travel and other activities as per their doctor until receiving therapy.
Patients undergoing radiofrequency ablation are given either a local anesthetic and/or a mild sedative. A catheter heated by radiofrequency energy is threaded through a small incision in the vein, guided by ultrasound. The heat damages the vein’s wall, causing the vein to close. In the overwhelming majority of patients, vein collapse and closure take place within six weeks of radiofrequency ablation treatment.
Radiofrequency ablation has few side effects, although there is always the possibility of skin burns or temporary feelings of pain because of nerve damage.
Although radiofrequency ablation is sometimes touted as a lunchbreak procedure, for practical purposes it will take a bit longer than that. However, there is little downtime for the patient after radiofrequency ablation. Patients will have to wear compression stockings for a couple of weeks afterward, but many varicose vein sufferers have already worn such hose for years. Unless their jobs are physically strenuous, most patient can return to work the next day, and resume most normal activities including exercise within a few days. The patient will see the doctor the week after the procedure, undergoing an ultrasound revealing the state of the vein. A final ultrasound is taken six weeks following the procedure, to determine whether the vein has completely closed.
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