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Radiofrequency ablation of varicose veins: Best practice techniques and evidence

Stephen J Goodyear, Isaac K Nyamekye
Phlebology 2015, 30 (2 Suppl): 9-17

SCOPE OF THE REVIEW: This article systematically reviews the practice of radiofrequency ablation of lower limb varicose veins. We present the clinical evidence and best practice techniques for currently available devices.

METHODS: Manufacturer's instructions-for-use were requested for all radiofrequency devices. The MEDLINE and EMBASE databases were searched using the following keywords: 'varicose veins' AND 'radiofrequency' OR 'radio frequency' OR 'Venefit' OR 'ClosureFAST' OR 'RFiTT' OR 'EVRF' OR 'VeinCLEAR', generating 240 articles. Titles and abstracts were screened, yielding 63 articles directly relevant to the scope of the review. Reference lists for publications were also searched to identify further manuscripts of relevance. The Cochrane Database and current National Institute for Clinical and Healthcare Excellence guidelines for varicose veins were also searched from relevant articles.

RESULTS: Four radiofrequency ablation (RFA) systems are currently commercially available. Generic practice methods (common to all RF systems) and device-specific techniques are described. The weight of current evidence relates to the use of Covidien Venefit™ (formerly VNUS ClosureFAST™), which clearly demonstrates clinical advantages over open surgery at least to 2 years follow up. However, contemporary studies of the radiofrequency-induced thermal therapy device (RFiTT®), show that in experienced hands, clinical equivalence to the Venefit™ procedure can be achieved. The evidence base for EVRF® and VeinCLEAR™ devices is currently weak and absent, respectively.

CONCLUSIONS: Despite widespread uptake of RFA and acceptance of its clinical advantages over open surgery there is a paucity of Class 1 A evidence. This results from incongruent reporting of clinical outcome measures within existing literature. Similarly, lack of long-term follow-up studies precludes comparison of the durability of short- and medium-term advantages of RFA with the longer term results of open surgery. There remains scope for a large prospective high-quality trial to assess the clinical, anatomical and cost-effectiveness outcomes for the four commercially available RFA devices, with a particular focus on long-term follow up.

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