The thyroid gland is a small, wing-shaped organ in your throat that produces hormones regulating the body’s temperature, energy use, and many other vital functions. In some people, thyroid glands may develop nodules, which are growths or lumps.

While most thyroid nodules are harmless, some can become large enough to become compressive, which means they push against surrounding tissues in your neck, like the vocal cords or trachea. This can lead to difficulty breathing or swallowing, feelings of tightness or discomfort in the throat, or changes in voice tone.

Health professionals may recommend Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) to treat problematic thyroid nodules. Discover what thyroid RFA treatment entails, what happens during the procedure, and whether you need to have thyroid NFA on nodules before they become compressive.

How Common Are Thyroid Nodules?

Thyroid nodules are a widespread condition among healthy individuals. Between 50% and 65% of people have thyroid nodules; however, most do not cause symptoms.

Among the people with thyroid nodules, only 5% are linked to conditions like hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), and up to 15% are cancerous. While more women develop thyroid nodules than men, nodules found in men are more commonly associated with cancer. Age is also a factor; the older the patient, the higher the chances of developing thyroid nodules.

What Causes Thyroid Nodules?

Medical professionals do not know why thyroid nodules form or what conditions cause their growth. Thyroid nodules are linked to multiple health conditions requiring different diagnoses, observation procedures, and treatments, including:

  • Thyroid cysts, a type of nodule that can be solid or filled with liquid
  • Thyroid gland inflammation
  • Thyroid adenomas, a type of nodule classified as a benign (non-cancerous) tumor
  • Goiter, typically caused by iodine deficiency
  • Hashimoto’s disease
  • Thyroid cancer

What is Thyroid RFA?

Thyroid Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) is a medical treatment that reduces the size of benign thyroid nodules. It is a minimally invasive procedure that uses radiofrequency energy to target the surface of a nodule, destroy its cells, and cause it to shrink in size. The process is relatively painless and typically involves using local anesthetics on your neck.

Your doctor or endocrinologist may recommend thyroid RFA on your nodules before they become compressive based on your existing symptoms, the nodules’ characteristics, and your personal preferences.

RFA is a popular alternative to other, more invasive solutions, such as thyroid surgery (thyroidectomy). The procedure offers numerous benefits, including faster treatment times, a low risk of complications, and preservation of your thyroid and its functionality.

Who is Eligible for a Thyroid RFA Procedure?

Medical professionals use multiple factors and indicators to determine your eligibility for the thyroid RFA procedure. You generally qualify for RFA if you meet one of the following criteria:

  • You have benign nodules. You may be eligible if you have solid or primarily solid nodules, even if biopsy testing has confirmed they aren’t cancerous.
  • You have recurring nodules. If you have attempted other treatments in the past but your nodules have regrown, you may receive a recommendation to undergo RFA treatments. For example, if radioactive iodine therapy or surgery has failed to prevent nodule regrowth, a doctor may recommend thyroid RFA instead.
  • You have symptomatic nodules. The RFA procedure may be prescribed if your nodules are causing cosmetic issues, such as a swollen neck, or make it difficult for you to breathe or swallow.
  • Your nodules are too large. Studies recommend RFA treatment for individuals with nodules exceeding 2 centimeters (about 0.78”) in size.
  • You need a non-invasive treatment. Thyroid RFA may be the right choice for you if you don’t want to undergo surgery or if you have been deemed unsuitable for an alternative treatment.

Who Should Avoid a Thyroid RFA Procedure?

Despite being an effective and safe treatment, the RFA procedure is not recommended for every patient with thyroid nodules. Specialists recommend avoiding RFA treatment if:

  • You are pregnant
  • Your vocal cords are damaged
  • You are currently on blood thinners and cannot safely stop taking medication before the procedure
  • You have recently had a heart attack, have an arrhythmia disorder, or need a pacemaker
  • Your nodules present characteristics that make them unsuitable for RFA treatment, such as those close to major blood vessels or extremely large growths

If you are unsure whether you are eligible for thyroid RFA, consult your endocrinologist. They can provide you with the information and guidance you need.

Thyroid RFA Procedure

The Thyroid RFA Procedure, Step-by-Step

If you decide to go through with the RFA (Radiofrequency Ablation) procedure to treat thyroid nodules, there’s a specific series of steps and guidelines you’ll need to follow, starting with how you prepare leading up to the procedure. Generally, the process unfolds like this:

  • Initial consultation. Your endocrinologist will evaluate your medical history, perform a physical examination, and conduct imaging tests, such as ultrasound. Depending on the results, your doctor may determine whether you are a suitable candidate for the RFA procedure. For example, they will help you decide whether you should have thyroid RFA on your nodules before they become compressive.
  • Pre-procedure preparation. An operation date will be scheduled if you agree to undergo RFA treatment. You may be asked to avoid eating or using specific medications for up to six hours before the operation.
  • Anesthesia. The medical professional in charge of the operation will apply local anesthetics to your neck. It will minimize pain and discomfort during the procedure.
  • Ultrasound guidance. Then, they will use an ultrasound device to view your thyroid gland. It allows them to find and target your nodules as accurately as possible.
  • RFA probe. Once your nodules have been located, the doctor will insert a thin, needle-like RFA probe through the neck area. You may feel slight discomfort while the probe is being inserted.
  • Application of radiofrequency energy. The doctor will position the probe into the nodule and then turn the RFA machine on to deliver radiofrequency energy to the probe. The machine will generate heat to burn the nodules slowly until they shrink.
    Your doctor carefully monitors the probe and the amount of radiofrequency energy delivered. They will ensure you do not feel pain or excessive heat and keep the probe from damaging your thyroid or surrounding tissue and organs.
  • Completion. Once the nodule has been treated, your doctor will remove the probe from your neck and apply a bandage. The entire process typically takes about 15 minutes. If you have more nodules, the process may be longer, typically up to an hour.
  • Post-procedure care. After the operation, you’ll be under observation for a while to ensure no complications arise. They will watch for signs like bleeding, swelling in the neck, or sharp pain and ensure the anesthetic wears off safely.
    Once you are discharged, watch for signs of discomfort, such as a sore throat or mild but persistent pain in the neck. Your doctor may recommend common over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) for pain management.
  • Follow-up appointments. Your endocrinologist may request follow-up appointments and imaging. These appointments will assess the size of your thyroid nodules, ensuring they have shrunk properly. They’ll also monitor for potential complications so they can be addressed on time.

Schedule a Thyroid RFA Procedure with Professional Endocrinologists

The RFA procedure is a fast, effective, non-invasive, proven solution for treating nodules. You can typically schedule an operation even if your nodules do not cause pain or discomfort. Once the operation is over, you can return to work and daily activities almost immediately.

If you are considering thyroid RFA on your nodules before they become compressive, contact the team at Associated Endocrinologists. Our professional physicians can review your health history, discuss treatment options, determine your eligibility, and, if desired, perform the operation.

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