If your physician has ever recommended you to see a vascular surgeon or interventional radiologist, you may be a bit confused about what that entails. Even though they sound like they are in vastly different types of medicine, there is actually a significant overlap in what kinds of procedures they do. Because there are few differences between a vascular surgeon and interventional radiologist, people often get confused if they’re scheduled with a vascular surgeon, but they also say they do interventional radiology.

What Is a Vascular Surgeon?

Two vascular doctors performing a medical treatment

A vascular surgeon, sometimes referred to as a vascular specialist, manages as well as treats veins and arteries in every part of the body except the brain or heart. A vascular surgeon can treat conditions like:

  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and other blood clots
  • Vein disease and venous insufficiency
  • Atherosclerosis like peripheral artery disease (PAD)
  • Critical limb ischemia
  • Diabetes vascular disease and limb salvage
  • Diseases of the aorta
  • Dialysis graft and fistula management
  • Non-healing wounds caused by vascular disease

Although vascular surgeons can treat numerous arterial and venous diseases, it depends on what their speciality is in as well as what tools they have at their disposal. Therefore, it’s important to choose a vascular surgeon with a speciality in your condition. One of the reasons vascular surgeons are trained in treating so many different conditions because they are connected. There are numerous kinds of vascular diseases, but most of them start with the same problem, declining blood vessel health. Vascular surgeons know that getting to the root of the problem can help prevent serious, life-threatening arterial diseases in the future.

Additionally, they usually use a combination of lifestyle change, medications, and minimally invasive treatments to help their patients avoid surgery unless it is necessary.

Are Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgeons the Same?

Heart vs artery diagram

A cardiothoracic surgeon is a physician who specializes in surgical procedures of the heart, lungs, and other organs within the chest (also known as the thoracic cavity). Think of vascular surgeon as a general title. Some vascular specialists may also be cardiothoracic surgeons, but some may not be.

One of the most common diseases cardiothoracic surgeons and vascular surgeons treat is coronary artery disease, also known as heart disease. This is often caused by plaque buildup within the coronary artery, which can lead to a heart attack. Even though they may be specialized in different systems, cardiothoracic and vascular surgeons are versed in knowing how to successfully unclog blocked arteries to restore flow to surrounding organs.

However, you may be wondering, “if cardiothoracic surgeons treat heart disease, what kind of doctor treats peripheral artery disease?” Because they have a similar cause, arterial plaque accumulation, many cardiothoracic surgeons also treat peripheral artery disease (PAD). Although they may have a different title depending on how they treat PAD, surgically or nonsurgically.

What Kind of Doctor Treats Peripheral Artery Disease?

Doctor examining patient with pad in wheelchair

Peripheral artery disease (PAD), also referred to as peripheral vascular disease, occurs when there is a plaque accumulation within the arteries that causes limited blood flow. When blood carrying oxygen and nutrients fail to reach the lower extremities such as the legs and feet, it may cause painful symptoms to arise. Unlike coronary artery disease, PAD affects the lower half of your body’s arteries such as the iliac, femoral, aorta, popliteal, or tibial.

Doctors who treat PAD typically avoid surgery and opt for a combination of lifestyle, medicinal, and nonsurgical procedures. One of the most common procedures is known as stent angioplasty, where a tiny balloon stent is placed non-surgically into the affected artery, pushing the plaque buildup towards the sides of the artery. When the balloon is inflated, it creates a clear passageway for blood to flow freely to the extremities. Because this is done non-surgically, via live ultrasound guidance the doctors who treat peripheral artery disease are known as interventional radiologists.

As you can see, even though the title “vascular surgeons” imply they perform surgical procedures, that is not always the case. Many vascular surgeons are also interventional radiologists, as they are able to go hand-in-hand especially when treating PAD. Top vascular surgeons often are experienced in both vascular surgery and interventional radiology to be able to treat a large range of arterial diseases.

What Does an Interventional Radiologist Do?

Doctor using catheter to treat patient nonsurgically

So, as we mentioned above, vascular surgeons can also be interventional radiologists with the right training. Interventional radiologists (IR) are classified by their ability to diagnose and treat diseases with image-guided tools such as a fluoroscopy, a live x-ray. By utilizing image-guided tools and techniques, IR doctors are able to perform a wide variety of nonsurgical treatments and tests such as:

In order to reach these areas in the body, interventional radiologists use tiny catheters, needles, and other instruments in combination with the image-guided tools. This allows them to put minimum pressure on other organs, which usually decreases the recovery time and procedural risk. At USA Fibroid Centers, IR doctors treat uterine fibroids and adenomyosis, common women’s health conditions that usually affect women during their 20s to 50s.

Do Interventional Radiologists Perform Surgery?

Catheter used for nonsurgical interventional treatments

Interventional radiology is a specialized field within radiology that allows doctors to treat a wide range of health conditions through minimally-invasive, nonsurgical techniques. IR doctors are able to treat conditions through a tiny incision and live image-guidance. This enables them to avoid long, risky surgical procedures which were once the norm.

Practicing interventional radiology reduces the cost, recovery time, pain, and risk to patients who would otherwise need traditional open surgery to treat their health condition. This is because IR procedures can be performed in an office-based setting where patients can recover comfortably in their own home. Thankfully, more patients are now opting for nonsurgical procedures when they can be offered.

Finding a Vascular Surgeon or Interventional Radiologist Near You

Two doctors talking to senior man about treatment options

As you can see, there are few differences between vascular surgeons and interventional radiologists when they are both passionate about treating arterial as well as women’s health conditions through nonsurgical methods. At USA Vascular Centers, we believe that finding a top vascular surgeon or interventional radiologist near you shouldn’t be stressful.

Our two organizations, USA Vascular Centers as well as USA Fibroid Centers work with only the top vascular surgeons and interventional radiologists to bring you expert care. With countless outpatient facilities across the nation, we aim to make receiving a vascular or interventional radiology treatment as accessible and convenient as possible. We have an exceptional list of vascular surgeons to choose from that can help you throughout your entire journey: from initial consultation to a successful recovery.

Whether you’re experiencing vascular issues related to peripheral artery disease or women’s health issues like uterine fibroids, our centers can accommodate your needs. Your first appointment with a vascular surgeon or interventional radiologist will be to discuss what you’ve been experiencing and how we can help. From there, we will schedule testing or treatment, depending on where you are in your journey. Give us a call at 888.773.2193 or schedule your initial consultation online.