Vascular Surgeon: Your Vein Surgery Specialist
What is a vascular surgeon?
A vascular surgeon specializes in caring for people of all ages with diseases and conditions of the lymphatic system and blood vessels outside the heart and brain. Vascular surgeons use medical and surgical techniques to diagnose and treat many conditions, including blood clots, blood vessel blockages, and blood vessel injury. Vascular surgeons are also experts in preventing vascular problems, such as stroke and complications of diabetes.
A vascular surgeon typically:
Evaluates a patient’s medical history and educates the patient about vascular health and disease prevention
Performs a physical exam that includes evaluation of blood pressure, vital signs, and the health of the vascular and lymphatic system
Orders and interprets laboratory and imaging tests and prescribes medications
Screens, treats and monitors conditions that increase the risk of a serious vascular condition such as peripheral artery disease
Diagnoses and treats acute and chronic diseases and conditions that affect the blood vessels and lymphatic system including venous stasis ulcers, carotid artery disease, and gangrene
Performs diagnostic procedures and surgery
Provides direct care for vascular and lymphatic system conditions in the office, clinic, outpatient surgery center, and hospital
Works closely with your primary care doctor, other specialists, and members of your healthcare team to provide optimal care
Vascular surgeons may also be known by the following names: blood vessel surgeon, circulatory surgeon, artery surgeon, and vein surgeon.
Who should see a vascular surgeon?
In most cases, your primary care doctor can manage uncomplicated conditions that are known to lead to vascular problems. Many people see a vascular surgeon for the first time when their primary care doctor or another specialist finds or suspects a complex vascular or lymphatic disease or condition, such as lymphedema or an aneurysm. Your doctor may also refer you to a vascular surgeon for evaluation of risk factors for serious conditions, such as having a non-healing wound that could lead to gangrene.
Seeing an experienced vascular surgeon for early treatment or preventive care before serious vascular problems occur is the best way to reduce the risk of permanent damage, disability, and other complications.
When should you see a vascular surgeon?
Consider seeking care from a vascular surgeon if you have any of the following symptoms or conditions:
Wound or ulcer that does not heal
Persistent swelling of the arms or legs
Pain or weakness in the legs when walking
Severe or painful varicose veins
You should also consider seeking care from a vascular surgeon under the following situations:
Your primary care doctor finds an abnormality that needs further evaluation, such as an abdominal aneurysm seen on an MRI or CT scan.
You have a vascular or lymphatic system condition or disease that requires ongoing monitoring and specialized care, such as lymphedema or peripheral artery disease.
You need specialized vascular or lymphatic tests or procedures, such as angiography or duplex ultrasonography.
What conditions and diseases does a vascular surgeon treat?
A vascular surgeon treats conditions and diseases that involve the health of the lymphatic system, arteries, and veins outside the heart and brain. For vascular conditions in the brain, your doctor may refer you to a neurologist or neurosurgeon. For vascular conditions in the heart, your doctor may refer you to a cardiologist or cardiothoracic (thoracic) surgeon.
Conditions vascular surgeons treat include:
Aneurysm, a weak area in an artery wall that could expand and rupture. Aneurysms can occur in the abdomen, chest, groin, kidneys, bowel, legs, arms and neck.
Carotid artery disease, blockage of the major arteries in the neck
Lymphedema, a buildup of fluid in the arms or legs
Mesenteric ischemia, a narrowing or blockage of the arteries of the small intestine or other digestive organs
Peripheral arterial disease (PAD), a narrowing or blockage of the arteries in your pelvis, legs or arms. Peripheral arterial disease can cause pain and weakness in the legs, known as claudication.
Pulmonary embolism, a blood clot that travels to the lungs
Thoracic outlet syndrome, compression of the main vein, artery, or nerves in the chest
Varicose veins, distended, often painful veins
Vascular problems of diabetes, which include non-healing wounds, ulcers, atherosclerosis, stroke, and peripheral arterial disease
Venous insufficiency, which occurs when the veins cannot return enough blood to the heart. This can lead to venous stasis ulcers.
What tests does a vascular surgeon perform or order?
A vascular surgeon can order, perform or interpret a wide variety of diagnostic and screening tests including:
General health and screening tests including complete blood count (CBC), blood clotting tests, blood culture, spinal fluid analysis, urinalysis, blood glucose (sugar) test, electrolyte tests, liver and kidney function tests, and blood pressure screening
Ankle-brachial index to help evaluate leg circulation
Plethysmography to help evaluate blood flow and diagnose blood clots
What procedures and treatments does a vascular surgeon perform or order?
Vascular surgeons order or perform medical treatments and various procedures and surgeries including:
Amputation (removal of a limb or a portion of a limb) due to disease or trauma
Aneurysm repair including repair of abdominal and thoracic (chest) aortic aneurysms
Angiogram to look for blocked blood vessels. Doctors often perform angiograms in conjunction with an angioplasty and stenting to open blocked arteries.
Dialysis vascular access procedures including arteriovenous (AV) fistula and AV graft surgery for hemodialysis
Medications including thrombolytic therapy to dissolve blood clots
Pelvic laparoscopy, a minimally invasive technique to diagnose and treat a variety of vascular problems in the pelvis
Peripheral vascular bypass to bypass narrowed arteries in the arms and legs
Risk factor management including diabetic foot care and stroke prevention
Vascular surgeon training and certification
A doctor may practice vascular surgery without becoming board certified in the specialty. However, education, training, experience and certification are key elements in establishing a doctor’s level of competence. Board certification verifies that a doctor has completed residency training in the specialty and has passed competency examinations.
A board-certified vascular surgeon has earned certification in vascular surgery by the American Board of Surgery or the American Osteopathic Board of Surgery.
A board-certified vascular surgeon has:
Graduated from medical school or a college of osteopathic medicine, earning an MD or DO degree
Completed residency training in general surgery
Passed a certification exam that validates the doctor’s knowledge and skills in general surgery
Completed additional specialized fellowship training in vascular surgery
Passed a certification exam that validates the doctor’s specialized knowledge and skills in vascular surgery
To maintain board certification in vascular surgery, a doctor must participate in an ongoing certification program.