RF Vein Treatment
The RF procedure, or “RF” for short, was approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1999. It’s undergone several refinements since then and is now the standard RF vein treatment for lower extremity vein disease (venous reflux). At present the procedure can be done in-office by most general surgeons, vascular surgeons, and phlebologists. The Venefit system by Covidien Medical is arguably the most widely used RF closure technique in use today.
As mentioned, the process itself typically lasts less than one hour. To start, the patient is gowned and the leg being treated is sterilized. Then a Registered Vascular Technologist (RVT), aka ultrasound tech, assists the surgeon in finding the location of the diseased vein.
Since RF Vein Treatment is heat-based it has the potential to damage surrounding tissue. To work around this problem, as well as to provide pain control, large amounts of highly diluted anesthetic fluid into the space surrounding the vein. For many surgeons, lidocaine is the anesthetic of choice. This is accomplished using a standard surgical pump. Not only does this fluid barrier protect the surrounding tissue but it provides pain control as well. Patients typically feel a pressure sensation but never outright pain or discomfort.
Next, the surgeon makes a tiny incision to access the vein. This is usually done at or near the ankle in order to treat the entire length of the diseased vein. With the RVT’s help, the surgeon inserts a specialized catheter up the length of this vein. What makes this piece of disposable medical device unique is its tip, which contains a heating element.
Note that only at this point does the actual RF Vein Treatment begin—everything up to this point has been preparation. Radiofrequency (RF) energy is then delivered through this catheter to the element to produce heat. This delivers very high temperature spikes for very short periods of time. This damages the vein enough to cause the formation of scar tissue. As the catheter is withdrawn each segment is treated, one at a time, along the course of the vein. This treatment phase takes under 5 minutes.
As the vein scars down it collapses. Finally, in the months following the procedure it is broken down by the body. Eventually the vein is reabsorbed entirely.