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Radiofrequency ablation and laser treatment

BMJ Group Medical Reference

Introduction

This information is for people who have varicose veins. It tells you about radiofrequency ablation and laser treatment, treatments used for varicose veins. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Do they work?

Probably. These are newer treatments for varicose veins. There hasn't been enough good research to say for certain how well they work in the longer term, but studies so far are promising.

What are they?

Surgery is the only way to get rid of varicose veins completely. But it's a big operation and there are risks. Surgeons have been looking at other ways to treat varicose veins that may be easier and quicker than traditional surgery. One of these ways is closing the vein with heat.

Your surgeon can use heat to close your varicose veins in several ways.

Radiofrequency ablation

In this method, your surgeon puts a thin instrument into your vein. The instrument produces energy, which heats and seals off your vein. This is called radiofrequency ablation. Surgeons usually use this method for larger varicose veins.

If you're having treatment for a varicose vein in your leg, your surgeon will: [67]

  • Give you a local anaesthetic to numb the area, so you'll be awake but you won't feel any pain

  • Make a small cut above or below your knee, depending on the area being treated

  • Put the heating device into your vein or thread it through a very thin tube (called a catheter) and then into your vein

  • Heat the device and pull it back slowly through your vein.

The heated device seals your vein while your surgeon pulls it out.

Laser treatment

In this method, doctors use a laser to seal off veins.

If you're having treatment for a varicose vein in your leg, your doctor will:

  • Give you a local anaesthetic to numb the area, so you'll be awake but you won't feel any pain

  • Thread a thin tube (called a catheter) through a small hole in your skin into your vein

  • Place a laser in the tube, so that the intense light from the laser heats your vein and makes it close up

  • Slowly remove the laser, sealing off your vein as the laser comes out.

Laser treatment is quick. It takes just 90 seconds to treat a 30-centimetre (12-inch) length of vein. [68]

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is the government organisation that advises doctors about treatments. NICE says that both radiofrequency ablation and laser treatment are safe enough and work well enough for use in the NHS. But we don't know the long-term effects of these treatments. You should talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of having one of these treatments. [68] [69]

Last Updated: May 01, 2012
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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