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What is radiofrequency ablation?

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a medical procedure that uses a high-frequency electric current to heat up and get rid of diseased tissue. It is commonly used to treat a variety of conditions, including cancer, chronic pain, and abnormal heart rhythms.

During an RFA procedure, a thin, flexible probe is inserted through the skin and into the area where the diseased tissue is located. The probe emits a high-frequency electric current that heats up the tissue, causing it to be harmed. The heat generated by the electric current also seals off nearby blood vessels, reducing the risk of bleeding.

What are the benefits of radiofrequency ablation?

Radiofrequency ablation has several potential benefits, depending on the treated condition. 

  • Minimally invasive: RFA is a minimally invasive procedure that does not require surgery, and patients can usually return to their normal activities soon after the procedure.
  • High success rates: RFA has high success rates in treating certain conditions, such as liver tumors, lung tumors, and abnormal heart rhythms. In some cases, RFA may be as effective as surgery.
  • Reduced pain: RFA can alleviate chronic back, neck, and joint pain. By destroying the small nerves that transmit pain signals, RFA can provide long-lasting pain relief.
  • Fewer side effects: RFA typically has fewer side effects than other treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. This is because RFA is targeted only to the area of diseased tissue, leaving healthy tissue unharmed.
  • Short recovery time: Because RFA is a minimally invasive procedure, the recovery time is typically shorter than with surgery. Most patients can return to normal activities within a few days after the procedure.
  • Improved quality of life: By alleviating pain and treating the underlying condition, RFA can improve a patient's quality of life.

What are the risks of radiofrequency ablation?

RFA is generally a safe and effective procedure, but like any medical procedure, it carries some risks. Here are some potential risks and complications of RFA:

  • Bleeding: There is a risk of bleeding at the probe insertion site. This bleeding may require a blood transfusion or surgical intervention in rare cases.
  • Infection: As with any invasive procedure, there is a risk of disease. Your doctor will take precautions to minimize this risk, such as administering antibiotics before and after the procedure.
  • Nerve damage: RFA may damage nerves near the treated area, leading to numbness or weakness in the affected area.
  • Damage to nearby organs: The heat generated by the electric current may cause damage to nearby organs or tissues.
  • Skin burns: RFA may cause burns to the skin overlying the treated area.
  • Pain: Some patients may experience pain or discomfort during or after the procedure.
  • Recurrence: In some cases, the treated tissue may grow back or the condition may recur, requiring additional treatment.

 

Your gastroenterologist will discuss these risks and any other potential complications of RFA with you before the procedure.

How long does radiofrequency ablation last?

  • Liver tumors: RFA can be an effective treatment for small liver tumors (less than 5 cm in diameter). In most cases, the treatment will completely get rid of the tumor, and the effects can last for several years. However, in some cases, the tumor may grow back over time, requiring additional treatment.
  • Lung tumors: RFA can effectively treat small lung tumors (less than 3 cm in diameter). The effects of RFA may last for several years, but the tumor may grow back over time.
  • Chronic pain: RFA can treat chronic back, neck, and joint pain. The effects of RFA can last for several months to a year or more, but the pain may return over time, requiring additional treatment.
  • Abnormal heart rhythms: RFA can treat certain types of abnormal heart rhythms. The effects of RFA are generally long-lasting, but the condition may recur over time.

 

In general, the effects of RFA are not permanent, and the treated tissue may grow back or the condition may recur over time. However, in some cases, RFA can provide long-lasting relief from symptoms and delay the need for more invasive treatments such as surgery.

How often can you have radiofrequency ablation?

The frequency of radiofrequency ablation treatments depends on the individual patient's condition and response to the procedure. RFA is considered safe, and you can receive treatment multiple times if necessary, but it's essential to balance the potential benefits with the risks of additional treatments. Here are some general guidelines for the frequency of RFA:

  • RFA can be repeated if the tumor grows back or new tumors develop. The frequency of treatments depends on the size and number of tumors and the individual patient's response to the procedure.
  • RFA can be repeated if the pain returns over time. The frequency of treatments depends on the severity and location of the pain and the individual patient's response to the procedure.
  • RFA is usually a one-time procedure, but it may need to be repeated if abnormal heart rhythms recur.

Our experienced, board-certified gastroenterologists serve patients throughout the Greater Houston area. No matter where you live or which location you choose, you can trust that we will provide the same patient-centered standards of quality care to everyone.

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