The Vein Institute

Radiofrequency ablation

What is Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA)?

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a minimally-invasive procedure used to treat varicose veins. It involves inserting a catheter into the vein then delivering a source of heat, closing off the vein and stopping the flow of blood. During RFA treatment, radiofrequency energy is administered in 20-second bursts directly into the vein through a tiny catheter. Rather than clotting the blood, the radiofrequency energy targets the collagen in the vein wall, causing it to shrink and prevent blood from circulating through that vein. The patient should not be able to feel this happening. The blood is rerouted through other healthy blood vessels.

What are the benefits of Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA)?

Over the past decade, RFA has emerged as a gold standard treatment due to its high success rate, short recovery time and minimal discomfort for patients.

  • No general anaesthetic, sutures, or stitches
  • Quick procedure, taking ~45 minutes
  • Only one RFA treatment per leg is required, with the addition of sclerotherapy to address smaller vein branches
  • Minimal downtime – you can get back to your routine after you leave our clinic

What happens during the procedure?

  • Your doctor will numb the area where the RFA fibre will enter with a local anaesthetic.
  • They will use ultrasound guidance to reveal the problem vein and its path throughout your body.
  • They will insert the fibre into the vein through a tiny incision, and guide it through with the help of ultrasound. As they move the fibre along the vein, it will deliver short radiofrequency bursts that will heat the vein and seal it shut. 
  • They will then cover the incision with a bandage and apply gentle pressure. No sutures or stitches are needed.

We have found our patients get the best results when it is used in conjunction with sclerotherapy. While RFA is a great treatment for large and uncomplicated varicose veins, the fibre can’t fit into smaller varicose vein branches or spider veins. So, your doctor will use sclerotherapy to seal these shut.

What makes Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) different to Endovenous Laser Ablation (EVLA)?

RFA and EVLA are very similar treatments used to heat and seal varicose veins via a special fibre. However, EVLA is better suited for larger veins, and RFA often results in less discomfort for patients and a slightly lower risk of complications.

What are the risks of Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA)?

RFA is considered a very safe varicose vein treatment option. But as with any medical procedure, it does carry a few side effects and risks, including: 

  • Bruising
  • Aches and swelling, though these are very common and easy to manage through compression and over-the-counter pain relief
  • Pigmentation or ‘staining’ on the skin as your body absorbs the vein

More serious risks during and following the procedure include: 

  • Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) (<1%)
  • Nerve damage (<1%)
  • Allergic reaction to the anaesthetic

How to prepare for varicose veins laser treatment?

  • Eat a good meal before your RFA treatment. Although RFA is minimally invasive, it still involves puncturing the skin, so coming in on an empty stomach could make you feel faint.
  • Drink 2 glasses (around 500 ml) of water within an hour of your treatment. Staying well-hydrated will reduce the risk of clotting and minimise post-op side effects like swelling and pain. 
  • You should wear loose-fitting pants, a dress, or a skirt on the day of your appointment. We will wrap your legs in compression bandages, which will make it difficult to pull on tight clothing.
  • Avoid shaving your legs the morning of the treatment.

Post treatment care

As no general anaesthetic or large incisions are involved, you’ll be allowed to leave our clinic almost immediately after your treatment. However, there are a few steps you’ll need to take to aid your recovery. First, you’ll need to drink lots of fluids. Second, you’ll need to keep the compression wraps we provide on for 24 hours and wear compression socks for the next 3 – 5 days. You will also need to walk for at least 30 minutes a day for 2 weeks after your procedure. These steps will ensure reduced swelling and discomfort.

You’ll notice a 60-80% reduction in your veins after the procedure. You may also notice a reduction in symptoms (or stop experiencing symptoms at all). However, it can sometimes be difficult to tell if symptoms have reduced since RFA and sclerotherapy treatments have similar side effects to varicose vein symptoms. To see more before and after varicose vein treatment photos, click here.

Have questions about Radiofrequency Ablation treatment?

We have listed some of our most asked questions to the right. If you would like to speak to someone please contact us on 13 VEINS (13 83467) or make an appointment.

What can I expect during treatment?

  • After your scan at our clinic your leg will be cleaned before a tiny amount of anaesthetic is applied (using super fine needles).
  • A catherer is inserted into the vein and the Radiofrequency Ablation fibre is inserted.
  • A cool anaesthetic is then applied around your vein to protect surrounding tissue.
  • During the procedure the Radiofrequency Ablation fibre will be pulled back to seal the faulty vein. The should be no pain when the RadioFrequency Ablation fibre is being used.
  • After the procedure you will be required to wear bandages/compression stockings for three days and walk half an hour a day. These will be provided with your treatment or you can purchase additional in The Vein Institute shop.
  • Long distance travel is not permitted for 4 weeks.
  • Your leg may feel numb for six hours after the procedure but no effect on walking will occur.
  • A follow up appointment is required for all patients. At this appointment side veins may be treated with ultrasound guided sclerotherapy.

How does Radiofrequency Ablation work?

In this procedure the radiofrequency ablation fibre closes the vein wall and seals of the faulty vein. The closed vein eventually disappears as the body reabsorbs it over time.


How much does RFA treatment cost?

RFA treatment at The Vein Institute ranges from $3,200 to $4,200 (out-of-pocket), depending on the complexity of your varicose veins, if you’ll need one or both legs treated, and how much of the cost Medicare covered. Review the costs for our varicose vein treatment plan.

How does blood get back to the heart if the vein is damaged?

When your veins become varicose veins, they no longer pump blood effectively back to the heart and are not responsible for your circulation. As everyone has billions of veins, the blood naturally finds its way to the heart using other veins.

Do I need to prepare for the procedure?

  • If your procedure is scheduled for the morning, be sure to eat breakfast and take any normal medications.
  • You should wear loose-fitting pants because your legs will be wrapped with elastic bandages after the procedure.
  • Avoid shaving your legs the morning of the treatment.

Can I drive after a Radiofrequency Ablation treatment and what must I do?

  • Yes you can drive after the procedure (if you have not taken any medication for anxiety).
  • However no long distance travel > 5 hours is recommended. If this is necessary you are required to have an injection.
  • All patients must wear stockings overnight and for up to 3 days.
  • All patients must have a review scan after the procedure between 1-2 weeks from the date of treatment.

What are the possible complications of Radiofrequency Ablation?

Rare: Soreness or phlebitis which usually settles with Nurofen.

Very Rare: DVT/Pulmonary Embolism. An extremely rare complication which will require the use of a certain drug.

Extremely rare: Nerve damage.

Vein Conditions and Treatments
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