Vascular & Interventional Radiologist: Your Blood Vessel Imaging Specialist

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS

What is a vascular and interventional radiologist?

A vascular and interventional radiologist specializes in using imaging technology, such as X-rays and MRI, and catheter-based procedures to diagnose and treat many diseases. Vascular and interventional radiologists focus on diseases of the blood vessels and lymphatic system, but also treat other conditions, such as cancer and infertility.

Vascular and interventional radiologists perform minimally invasive treatments that have less risk, pain, and recovery time compared to open surgery. With a small incision, they use imaging techniques to pass a catheter—a flexible narrow tube—into the body, often in an artery. Other types of catheters are used to drain excess fluid from your chest or abdomen, provide fluids, and deliver medication. Microsurgical instruments are also inserted through special catheters to access internal organs and structures in order to diagnose and treat a variety of conditions.

Vascular and interventional radiologists work in hospitals and freestanding radiology clinics. Doctors send patients to vascular and interventional radiologists to be evaluated with specialized imaging tests and to receive minimally invasive treatments.

A vascular and interventional radiologist may or may not have direct contact with the patient, but all vascular and interventional radiologists communicate with the primary care doctor and other specialists to diagnose diseases and other conditions and determine the best course of treatment. Vascular and interventional radiologists work as members of care teams that may include oncologists, cardiologists, obstetrician-gynecologists, gastroenterologists, and urologists.

A vascular and interventional radiologist may also be known by the following names: blood vessel radiologist, interventional radiologist, vascular radiologist, and radiologist.

When would your doctor consult with or send you to a vascular and interventional radiologist?

Doctors consult with vascular and interventional radiologists for a wide variety of suspected and known diseases, disorders and conditions. Your doctor may send you to a vascular and interventional radiologist to have a diagnostic imaging test, such as an angiogram or CT scan. The vascular and interventional radiologist will provide written test results and may consult with the referring doctor to make a diagnosis. Your doctor may also consult with a vascular and interventional radiologist to determine the best treatment plan for you and to provide a minimally invasive treatment.

Conditions that vascular and interventional radiologists diagnose and possibly treat include:

What imaging tests and procedures does a vascular and interventional radiologist perform?

A vascular and interventional radiologist can order or perform and interpret a wide variety of imaging tests and procedures that include:

  • Angiography to see how blood flows through blood vessels, such as cerebral angiography of the brain

  • Biopsies with CT or ultrasound guidance to diagnose cancer and other diseases

  • CT scan (computed tomography) to produce highly detailed images of the internal organs and anatomy, such as chest CT, brain CT, and abdominal CT

  • Fluoroscopy, a moving X-ray image to guide diagnostic and minimally invasive interventional procedures, such as voiding cystourethrogram, esophagram, upper GI series, and contrast enemas

  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to produce highly detailed images using the body's natural magnetism and radio wave energy, such as a head MRI to diagnose a stroke or aneurysm

  • Nuclear imaging scan with trace amounts of radioactive substances to show organ structure and function and diseased tissue such as cancer. Nuclear imaging scans include kidney scan and liver scan.

  • Ultrasound using sound waves to see internal organs and structures, such as kidney and abdominal ultrasound

  • X-rays including radiographs of almost any part of the body including bones, joints, chest and abdomen

What treatments does a vascular and interventional radiologist perform?

A vascular and interventional radiologist can perform various minimally invasive treatment procedures including:

  • Blood vessel treatments including embolectomy (blood clot removal), thrombolysis (dissolving the clot), repair of abdominal aortic aneurysm, and angioplasty of arteries in the neck, kidney or legs. Specially trained interventional neuroradiologists treat brain aneurysms.

  • Cancer treatments including chemoembolization (injecting chemotherapeutic agents at the tumor site) and radio frequency ablation (killing the tumor with heat)

  • Drainage of abscesses or fluid including draining bile from obstructed bile ducts and fluid in the abdomen (paracentesis) or chest (thoracentesis)

  • Kidney treatments including renal stenting and nephrostomy

  • Liver treatments including redirecting blood flow around an obstructed blood vessel

  • Spine treatments including vertebroplasty to treat back pain

  • Treatments for female reproductive conditions including uterine fibroid removal and catheterization to open obstructed fallopian tubes

  • Treatments for male infertility including embolization of varicose veins in a testicle (varicocele)

  • Vascular access procedures including placement of a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) or central venous catheter (CVC) to access the heart, catheters for dialysis, and feeding tubes

Vascular and interventional radiologist training and certification

Education, training, experience and certification are key elements in establishing a vascular and interventional radiologist’s level of competence. A board-certified vascular and interventional radiologist has earned certification in vascular and interventional radiology by the American Board of Radiology or the American Osteopathic Board of Radiology.

A board-certified vascular and interventional radiologist has:

  • Graduated from medical school or a college of osteopathic medicine, earning an MD or DO degree

  • Completed specialized residency training in diagnostic radiology

  • Passed a certification exam that validates the doctor’s knowledge and skills in diagnostic radiology

  • Completed additional specialized training in vascular and interventional radiology

  • Passed a certification exam that validates the doctor's specialized knowledge and skills in vascular and interventional radiology

To maintain board certification in vascular and interventional radiology, a radiologist must participate in an ongoing certification program.

There are no subspecialties of vascular and interventional radiology. However, there are vascular and interventional radiologists who are leaders in diagnosing and treating a specific type of condition, such as infertility or aneurysms.

Other board-certified specialists, such as interventional cardiologists, vascular surgeons, and other types of radiologists, treat people with similar conditions. Talk to your doctor about the best types of specialists or subspecialists for you and for referrals to well-respected doctors. When considering a specialist, ask for details about the training and experience he or she has.

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  1. Certification Matters. American Board of Radiology. http://www.certificationmatters.org/abms-member-boards/radiology.aspx.   
  2. Initial Certification: VIR Subspecialty. The American Board of Radiology. https://www.theabr.org/interventional-radiology/initial-certification#vir.   
  3. CAQ Qualifications & Eligibility. American Osteopathic Board of Radiology. https://www.aobr.org/subspecialties/caq-qualifications/.  
  4. Patient Center. Society of Interventional Radiology. https://www.sirweb.org/patient-center/.  








Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2017 Nov 27
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