Radiofrequency Ablation
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Radiofrequency Ablation


En Español (Spanish Version)


Radiofrequency ablation is a procedure that uses heat to destroy abnormal tissues in the body.

Parts of the Body Involved

Radiofrequency ablation can be used in a number of locations throughout the body, including:

  • Liver
  • Heart
  • Bone
  • Kidney
  • Breast
  • Lung
  • Prostate
  • Adrenal gland
  • Soft palate
  • Nerves
  • Veins

Reasons for Procedure

Radiofrequency ablation is used to treat:

  • Cancerous tumors in the liver, bone, kidney, breast, lung or adrenal gland, particularly those that have not responded, or are unlikely to respond to surgery and/or chemotherapy alone (often used to treat tumors that have spread)
  • Cardiac arrhythmias (irregular and/or rapid heart rhythms due to abnormal electrical conduction pathways)
  • Benign prostatic hyperplasia—condition in which enlarged areas of the prostate may be responsible for compressing the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body)
  • Overgrown areas of the soft palate that may be responsible for severe snoring and/or sleep apnea (periods of time when breathing stops during sleep)
  • Pain from soft tissue tumors
  • Severe nerve pain
  • Varicose veins

Radiofrequency Ablation Results

cardiac ablation heart

Ablation procedure blocked impulses that had been causing atrial fibrillation.

© 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

Risk Factors for Complications During the Procedure

  • Bleeding problems
  • Active infection

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

  • Preoperative tests usually including blood tests and electrocardiogram (EKG) testing.
  • Do not eat solid foods at least eight hours prior to the procedure.
  • Do not drink clear fluids about two hours prior to the procedure.


Most radiofrequency ablation procedures are done by placing small needles or probes into the abnormal tissue. These kinds of procedures usually only require sedatives to help you relax and local anesthetics to numb the area where the probe will be inserted.

In some cases, radiofrequency ablation can be done as part of an open surgical operation. In this event, the type of anesthesia used— general or spinal—will depend on the extent of the total operation.

Description of the Procedure

  • An IV will be placed to give you fluids and medications to help you relax.
  • Your heart rate, breathing, blood oxygen, and blood pressure will be monitored throughout the procedure.
  • The area where the probe will be inserted is numbed with local anesthetic.
  • CT , ultrasound , or MRI images may be used to better localize the area requiring treatment.
  • The probe will be inserted into or directly up against the abnormal tissue. In some cases, once the probe is inserted, a number of electrodes will be introduced through the probe into the area, to allow treatment of a greater volume of tissue.
  • A small amount of heat-generating electricity will be introduced through the probe, in order to heat the abnormal tissue and destroy it.
  • The probe may be repositioned to destroy other areas of tissue.
  • The probe and electrodes are all withdrawn at the end of the procedure.

After Procedure

You’ll need to stay in bed for monitoring for about 2-3 hours after the procedure, or until sedative medications have worn off sufficiently.

How Long Will It Take?

The amount of time for the actual treatment may be from 10-60 minutes, although preparation time and postoperative monitoring may increase your stay in the hospital or clinic to several hours.

Will It Hurt?

Medications are available to prevent most pain or discomfort that the procedure may cause.

Possible Complications

  • Excessive discomfort
  • Bruising or bleeding
  • Infection of the area where the probe was inserted
  • Lung 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 heart
  • Liver abscess (small, localized collection of pus within a cavity left by the destroyed tissue)
  • Damage to tissue surrounding the target area

Average Hospital Stay

Many radiofrequency ablation procedures are done on an outpatient basis, meaning that you will be able to go home the same day. In some situations, you may need to stay overnight for monitoring.

Postoperative Care

Don’t drive within the first 24 hours after the procedure. Depending on the type of condition being treated, you may be asked to avoid strenuous activities for some time after the procedure. You will probably be able to eat and drink normally immediately following the procedure if local anesthetics were used.


The desired outcomes include:

  • Death of cancer cells
  • Normal heart rhythm
  • Decreased snoring/cessation of sleep apnea
  • Decreased pain from soft tissue tumors, conditions involving nerves, or varicose veins

Call Your Doctor If Any of the Following Occurs

  • Bleeding
  • Fever
  • Increased pain
  • Increased nausea and vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or heart palpitations


American College of Radiology

The Radiological Society of North America

Society of Interventional Radiology


The Radiological Society of North America


American Heart Association. The Radiofrequency Ablation page. Available at . Accessed 28 August 2006.

National Institutes of Health. The Radiofrequency Ablation page. Available at . Accessed 28 August 2006.

RadiologyInfo. The Interventional Radiology page. Available at . Accessed 28 August 2006.

Last reviewed April 2008 by Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD

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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