Learn About What Vascular Surgeons Do
A vascular surgeon diagnoses, treats, and manages conditions in your arteries and veins, also called your blood vessels. These specialists treat a range of health problems, from spider and varicose veins to life-threatening aneurysms, and can help patients manage chronic conditions throughout their lives.
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Training for Vascular Surgeons
To become a vascular surgeon, a doctor undergoes several years of training, beginning with medical school and a medical residency.
After medical school, doctors must complete an additional five to seven years of specialized training in order to become vascular surgeons. This includes training in both traditional vascular surgery procedures as well as in minimally invasive endovascular surgery. Surgeons may then become board-certified in vascular surgery by taking a rigorous exam that measures their expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of vascular disease.
What Conditions Do Vascular Surgeons Treat?
A vascular surgeon treats many conditions that affect the blood vessels in every part of your body except for your heart and brain. This can include:
- Aneurysm, a bulge or weak spot in an artery
- Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, where plaque builds up on your artery walls
- Carotid artery disease or peripheral artery disease (PAD), where the arteries that bring blood to your neck or limbs become narrow or blocked
- Compression disorders like nutcracker syndrome and thoracic outlet syndrome
- Dialysis access, or the placement of a graft or fistula that allows you to receive dialysis treatment for kidney disease
- Deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot in a vein deep below your skin
- Spider veins, or small webs of veins just below the surface of the skin
- Trauma to arteries and veins caused by accidents or injuries
- Varicose veins, or large, swollen, twisted veins that can cause pain or aching in your legs
- Venous ulcers and arterial and diabetic (neuropathic) wounds, which are nonhealing wounds that result from poor blood flow, especially in the legs
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Diagnosing Vascular Disease
To make a diagnosis, your vascular surgeon will start by talking with you about your medical history, lifestyle, and symptoms and give you a physical exam. If necessary, your surgeon may order additional tests, which can include:
- Ankle brachial index, which is used to check the severity of PAD. During this test, your blood pressure is measured in both of your arms and both of your ankles, then compared.
- Ultrasound, which can be used to diagnose many conditions. This test uses sound waves to make pictures of your blood vessels and is commonly used to diagnose aneurysms, carotid artery disease, and varicose veins.
Treating Vascular Disease
Vascular surgeons develop treatment plans to fit each patient’s needs. Depending on your condition, this might include:
- Lifestyle changes, like quitting smoking, becoming more active, and choosing healthy foods
- Medicines that lower your risk of blood clots
- Catheter-based procedures, such as:
- Ablation, which safely closes damaged blood vessels
- Angioplasty, which uses a balloon to open up blocked arteries and veins
- Stenting, which uses a tube of metal mesh to hold an artery or vein open to allow for healthy blood flow
- Compression therapy, which uses special stockings to help manage symptoms like pain and swelling and increase blood flow
- Sclerotherapy, or injections that safely close spider veins and varicose veins
- Thrombolysis, which dissolves dangerous blood clots either through injections or a catheter
- Surgery to repair or remove damaged or diseased blood vessels
What is a vascular surgeon? Talking to your doctor
Before your appointment, write down a list of your symptoms, the medicines you take, and any questions you have. Some questions, even if they might seem simple, can include:
- What is my diagnosis?
- What are my options for treatment?
- What will this medicine do? Will I have side effects?
- How long will my procedure take?
- How often do you do this procedure?
- When will I be able to get back to my regular routine?
It’s a good idea to take notes, or ask someone to come with you to your appointment so you can have help remembering what your surgeon told you. And, if you need your surgeon to explain something again, or in a simpler way, don’t be afraid to ask. It’s very important to understand your condition and treatment options.
To schedule an appointment with a vascular surgeon at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, call 412-802-3333.
The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine.