Thyroid radiofrequency ablation is a safe and effective treatment for thyroid nodules and can help you manage under- or overactive thyroid symptoms. Learn the answers to common questions about this revolutionary procedure with Associated Endocrinologists.
Am I a Good Candidate for Thyroid Ablation?
Thyroid radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is an effective alternative to thyroid surgery and hormone replacement. The procedure is suitable for reducing or eliminating benign thyroid nodules that are causing discomfort due to pressure on the vocal cords or trachea. It is also recommended for asymptomatic thyroid nodules that are adversely impacting your appearance.
Thyroid ablation is not recommended for people who are pregnant or who have cardiac pacemakers. It is unsuitable for thyroid nodules located near vital structures in the throat, such as the nerve to the vocal cord, esophagus, or major blood vessels. RFA is also not used as a thyroid cancer treatment.
How Long Does Thyroid Ablation Take?
Thyroid ablation is generally a short procedure. The exact time needed to complete a session of RFA depends on the size, number, and location of your thyroid nodules; between 15 and 60 minutes is normal.
Because thyroid ablation is an outpatient procedure, you do not need to stay at a hospital. You can complete your treatment in an afternoon and be back to work the next day.
Is Thyroid Ablation Painful?
Thyroid RFA is performed using a local anesthetic to numb the skin on the throat. This ensures that you won’t feel any discomfort when the needle is inserted. An ultrasound is used to guide the needle to the location of the nodules, minimizing damage to healthy tissue.
The thyroid gland has no pain receptors, so you won’t be able to feel the heat from the ablation needle. However, you may feel some pressure as the needle moves.
You may experience some minor swelling or tenderness at the needle insertion site following the procedure. You can manage any discomfort using over-the-counter pain relievers and an ice pack.
Does Thyroid Ablation Cause Side Effects?
Thyroid ablation can cause mild side effects in some patients. They are quite uncommon, with mild complications occurring in 3.3% of cases and serious complications occurring in 1.4%.
Side effects related to RFA include temporary voice change, long-term voice change, nodule rupture, hematoma, hypothyroidism, accidental nerve damage, or infection.
There is also a risk that healthy tissue adjacent to the treatment area may come into contact with and be damaged by the electrically charged needle.
Do I Need to Prepare for a Thyroid Ablation Procedure?
If you take blood thinners or aspirin, stop taking your medication or reduce the dosage ten days before the procedure. You should also avoid eating or drinking for at least six hours before undergoing treatment; however, you can still take essential medications with a small sip of water for up to two hours before ablation therapy.
On the day of the procedure, do not wear any jewelry and choose an outfit that is easy to put on and take off; you’ll change into a hospital gown before receiving treatment.
Can Thyroid Ablation Treat Thyroid Cancers?
The American Thyroid Association does not recommend radiofrequency ablation to treat patients with thyroid cancer. If you present with thyroid nodules larger than 1–1 ½ cm (⅜ -⅝”), this may indicate a type of thyroid cancer, such as papillary or follicular thyroid cancers.
Before your doctor discusses treatment options, you’ll undergo an ultrasound-guided fine needle aspiration biopsy to determine whether your nodules contain cancer cells. If the biopsy reveals abnormal cells, the American Society of Clinical Oncology suggests that you undergo further diagnostic testing such as a CT scan or Radionuclide scan for confirmation.
What is the Recovery Period for Thyroid Ablation?
Because thyroid ablation is a minimally invasive procedure, the associated recovery period is much shorter than surgery.
After your RFA session, we ask that you remain at our practice for a short period so we can monitor you. You will then be discharged. During your initial appointment, ask your doctor if it is advisable for you to drive and, if not, arrange for alternate transportation.
You will be free to resume your regular activities almost immediately, with the average recovery period taking between 24 and 48 hours.
What Happens to the Nodules After Radiofrequency Ablation?
After being destroyed during RFA, the nodule cells are removed by your body’s immune system. You may notice a significant reduction in the appearance and volume of your nodules within two to three weeks; however, solid nodules typically take longer to decrease in size than cystic nodules.
You can expect between a 40 and 60% size reduction within the first three months and up to a 90% reduction after the first year.
Does My Insurance Cover Thyroid Ablation?
Because thyroid RFA is a relatively novel treatment for nodules, many insurance companies do not offer coverage. You should check with your provider and your policy to determine your coverage type.
If you do not have insurance or your policy doesn’t cover RFA, at Associated Endocrinologists, we accept cash and credit, as well as your Healthcare HSA and CareCredit.
For High-Quality Health Care Visit Associated Endocrinologists
If you experience discomfort or symptoms of thyroid disease, contact Associated Endocrinologist for an appointment. Our qualified and experienced team offers comprehensive thyroid care services, including ultrasound, fine needle biopsy, and thyroid radiofrequency ablation.