Vascular Surgeon: Your Vein Surgery Specialist

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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

  • Other symptoms your doctor believes to be caused by a vascular problem, such as periods of dizziness, confusion, weakness, garbled speech, or problems with memory

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

  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT),a blood clot in a large vein, usually in the pelvis or legs

  • 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

  • Imaging tests including X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) scans, carotid ultrasound exams, and duplex ultrasonography

  • 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.

  • Carotid artery surgery including carotid endarterectomy and carotid stenting

  • 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.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2017 Nov 27
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Certification Matters: Vascular Surgery. American Board of Medical Specialties. http://www.certificationmatters.org/abms-member-boards/surgery.aspx.  
  2. Primary Certification in Vascular Surgery. American Osteopathic Board of Surgery. https://certification.osteopathic.org/surgery/certification-process-overview/vascular-surgery/.  
  3. Specialty and Subspecialty Certificates. American Board of Medical Specialties. http://www.abms.org/member-boards/specialty-subspecialty-certificates/.   
  4. Training & Certification. The American Board of Surgery. http://www.absurgery.org/default.jsp?examoffered_vs.  
  5. What is Vascular Disease? https://vascular.org/patient-resources/what-vascular-disease.