What Is Thermocoagulation?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 25 June 2014
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Thermocoagulation is a procedure which causes localized tissue damage by exposing the tissue to electric current, with the current creating heat which damages individual cells in the area of interest. Essentially, in thermocoagulation, the cells are cooked with the current, impairing function and causing them to die. There are a number of applications for thermocoagulation, ranging from cosmetic surgery to management of tumors. This procedure is performed by a doctor who has received training in how to conduct it safely, and can be done in a hospital or a clinic which has the appropriate equipment.

In thermocoagulation, a small amount of current is introduced to the area of interest. The current is confined to a limited region, ensuring that the tissue damage caused by the thermocoagulation procedure is limited and under the control of the physician performing the procedure. The procedure is minimally invasive and comes with few side effects, making it a popular alternative to other options. The use of chemicals, for example, can result in more generalized damage if the chemicals spread beyond the area where they are used.

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In cosmetic surgery, thermocoagulation is commonly used in the treatment of thread veins or spider veins. The treatment will remove reddening in the skin, along with the thin tracery of veins found in the face or legs of many older adults which some people find aesthetically unpleasant. Thermocoagulation is also used in pain management. In a thermocoagulation neurotomy, signals from specific nerves are interrupted so that the patient will no longer experience pain. This procedure is used primarily in the treatment of back pain which has not responded to other treatment methods.

Thermocoagulation can also be used in a sympathectomy, in which a sympathetic nerve is severed. This can be used to treat issues such as facial blushing and sweaty palms. Risks of a sympathectomy include severing the wrong nerve, leading to unintended nerve damage which may inhibit other physical functions and impede a patient's quality of life. Some tumors can also be treated with thermocoagulation, with the procedure killing tumor cells so that they cannot reproduce.

No matter what the procedure is being used to treat, the doctor proceeds with care to ensure that the exposure to heat is tightly controlled and ends up in the right targeted area. Doctors can use feedback from the patient to determine placement, providing patients with a low level of stimulation which feels like a mild tingling to confirm that the probe used is placed in the appropriate location.

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