Radiofrequency ablation is the use of electrical energy to heat and destroy an area of tissue.
Radiofrequency ablation is used to destroy abnormal tissue that may be causing health problems or symptoms. Conditions that may be managed or treated with ablation include:
Cancerous tumors that have not responded to surgery and/or
chemotherapy—more common in liver, bone, kidney, breast, lung, or adrenal gland tumors. Ablation can reduce the size of tumors.
Cardiac arrhythmias—Ablation may be used to destroy areas of the heart that are causing irregular and/or rapid heart rates.
Benign prostatic hyperplasia
(BPH)—Removes extra prostate tissue that may be causing difficulty urinating.
sleep apnea—removes excess tissue at the back of the mouth and throat that may cause blockages during sleep.
Severe nerve painVaricose veins—removes problematic veins
Radiofrequency Ablation Results
Ablation procedure blocked impulses that had been causing atrial fibrillation.
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Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like: DiscomfortBruising or bleedingInfectionLung collapse
upon insertion of the probe—when the procedure involves the lung, liver, or upper kidney
Blood clots or damage to heart muscle or conduction pathways after procedures on the heartLiver abscessDamage to tissue surrounding the target area
Factors that may increase the risk of complications include: Bleeding problemsActive infection
Your doctor may order:
(EKG)—a test that records the electrical currents passing through the heart muscle
Imaging tests like
MRI scanAsk your doctor if you need to avoid eating or drinking before the procedure.
You will most likely be given a sedative to help you relax. Local anesthesia will be used to numb the area. If this is done as part of another surgery, you may have
The exact steps of the procedure will depend on where the tissue is located. The tool will be a probe that is applied directly to the area or passed through a catheter to the area.
Imaging devices such as a CT scan
will be used to help guide the doctor to the area.
A small amount of electricity is passed through the tube which heats and destroys the selected tissue. The probe may be repositioned to destroy other areas of tissue.
You will be monitored for 2-3 hours after the procedure.
Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Pain and discomfort after the procedure will depend on the location and amount of tissue that was involved. Discomfort during recovery can be managed with medications.
It may be possible to leave the hospital on the same day of the procedure. Some will need to stay overnight so that the doctor can monitor them.
Most return to normal activities within a few days of the procedure.
It is important to monitor your recovery. Alert your doctor to any problems. If any of the following occur, call your doctor: Signs of infection, including fever and chillsRedness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or any discharge from the incision sitePain that you cannot control with the medications you've been givenCough, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, or chest painNausea and vomiting
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
Cardiac procedures and surgeries.
American Heart Association website. Available at
http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/PreventionTreatmentofHeartAttack/Cardiac-Procedures-and-Surgeries_UCM_303939_Article.jsp. Updated october 24, 2014. Accessed December 30, 2014.
Gazelle GS, Goldberg SN, et al. Tumor ablation with radio-frequency energy.
The Radiological Society of North America Radiology Info website. Available at
http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/sitemap/category.cfm?category=ir&bhcp=1. Accessed December 30, 2014.
Radiofrequency ablation background. National Institutes of Health website. Available at
http://www.cc.nih.gov/drd/rfa/background.html. Accessed December 30, 2014.
Last reviewed December 2016 by Michael J. Fucci, DO
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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