Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a common treatment for benign thyroid nodules. The treatment uses heat to eliminate damaged tissue and halt cellular growth to help reduce the nodules’ volume. This minimally invasive procedure is an excellent alternative to thyroid surgery and offers a significantly faster recovery timeline.
If you are scheduled for thyroid RFA, you may be wondering how long it will take to recover from the treatment. While recovery timelines vary from patient to patient depending on the size, location, and the number of nodules, you can expect to resume normal activities a few days after the procedure.
Thyroid Radiofrequency Ablation Procedure
Thyroid RFA is a common outpatient procedure performed under local anesthetic at your endocrinologist’s office. You may be offered a mild sedative to help calm your nerves if you are an anxious patient. The treatment takes between 15 and 60 minutes, depending on the quantity and volume of the thyroid nodules.
You’ll lay on an exam table with two grounding pads attached to your thighs during the procedure. The doctor places a thin needle into the skin above the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland does not have nerve endings that send pain signals, so you should not experience discomfort.
The doctor uses an ultrasound wand to guide the ablation needle (electrode) to the nodule’s location and activates the alternating current. This agitates ions in the needles, generating heat at the tip. This heat destroys the damaged nodule tissue while leaving the healthy tissue intact.
After removing the electrode and cleaning away any ultrasound jelly, your doctor will apply a small bandage.
Thyroid RFA Recovery Timeline
Thyroid RFA has a faster recovery time compared to surgery. Immediately after your RFA procedure, you may experience minor swelling at the injection site and slight discomfort or bruising, which you can relieve with OTC pain management medications. These issues should resolve within 2 to 3 days after treatment.
Although it is an outpatient procedure, you should arrange for someone to drive you home afterward. If you requested sedation, you may need to stay at the clinic for several hours while the medication wears off.
You should be able to resume normal activities and go back to work the following day after the procedure.
You will notice a dramatic reduction in the nodules’ size within several months of the treatment. A 2021 study showed that patients experienced a 50% reduction in volume 6 months after treatment. However, the size reduction significantly depends on the initial nodule size, with larger nodules taking longer to shrink than those under 5 ml.
Thyroid RFA Side Effects
Thyroid RFA is a non-surgical procedure to eliminate thyroid nodules and has significantly fewer side effects than surgical nodule removal. However, a small percentage of people may experience:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Burns or pain around the injection site
- Temporary changes in heart rate or a drop in blood pressure
- Vocal hoarseness due to minor nerve damage
Thyroid RFA also has a very low complication rate compared to other nodule treatment plans. A 2017 study of over 800 patients demonstrated a 3.5% risk of overall complications and a 1.6% risk of a major complication. However, in rare cases, patients may experience severe complications, such as:
- Temporary or permanent voice changes
- Nerve pain and damage
- Nodule rupture
- Infection or abscess formation
Thyroid RFA Aftercare
You can minimize the risk of post-treatment complications or side effects by following your doctor’s aftercare instructions and attending follow-up appointments at 6 to 8 weeks, 6 months, and 12 months. You can care for your body after treatment by:
- Resting for at least 24 hours after treatment
- Drinking plenty of fluids, including water, electrolyte drinks, or herbal teas like ginger or peppermint, to combat nausea
- Keeping the injection site clean and covered with a Band-Aid
If you have pain that persists for more than a few days after the procedure, excessive bleeding or discharge from the injection site, or flu-like symptoms, contact Associated Endocrinologists immediately for a follow-up; these symptoms could be signs of an infection.
Improve Your Thyroid Health With Associated Endocrinologists
If you experience symptoms of thyroid dysfunction or notice a lump on your throat, call Associated Endocrinologists for an exam. Your doctor can perform a manual exam to ascertain whether nodules are present and schedule an ultrasound to determine if the nodules are benign or malignant.
If your doctor recommends radiofrequency ablation, ensure you take the proper precautions after treatment to support your recovery and minimize the risk of complications. For compassionate care in Michigan, contact Associated Endocrinologists at one of our two locations or via our convenient online contact form.