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What Is a Vascular Surgeon?

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on December 16, 2020

Vascular surgeons are doctors who treat diseases and problems within the vascular system, the network of arteries and veins that carry blood throughout the body. 

Vascular surgeons do more than surgery, though. They advise their patients on all the different ways to treat vascular problems, including with medication or diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes. 

What Does a Vascular Surgeon Do?

Vascular surgeons use treatments that range from noninvasive procedures to complicated surgeries. They treat arteries and veins in all parts of the body except for the heart and brain, which are handled by other specialists.

Vascular surgeons are primarily concerned with matching the person to the best treatment option available. In many cases, surgery isn’t the best solution.

Education and Training

Vascular surgeons are medical doctors who receive extensive training to treat diseases of the circulatory system. After medical school there are three tracks available to become a vascular surgeon. They include:

  • The 5+2 track, which includes 5 years of residency in surgery and an additional 2 years in vascular surgery.  
  • The 4+2 track, which allows early entry into vascular surgery and includes a residency of 4 years of general surgery and 2 years of vascular surgery.
  • The 0+5 track includes a residency of 3 years in vascular surgery and 2 years of core surgical training. 

After residency, doctors who choose the 5+2 track or the 4+2 track are eligible for board certification in general surgery and vascular surgery. Doctors who choose the 0+5 track are only eligible for certification in vascular surgery. 

What Conditions Does a Vascular Surgeon Treat?

Vascular surgeons treat many different conditions, including: 

  • Aneurysm: a bulge or a weak spot in an artery
  • Atherosclerosis: when plaque builds up inside arteries and could lead to blocked blood flow
  • Carotid artery disease: narrowing of the arteries in the neck
  • Deep vein thrombosis: a blood clot in a vein deep inside your body, such as in your leg
  • Peripheral artery disease: narrowing of the arteries in your arms or legs
  • Spider veins: small webs of veins inside the skin
  • Damage to blood vessels after an injury
  • Varicose veins: swollen and twisted veins that cause pain in your legs

Reasons to See a Vascular Surgeon

Your primary care physician may refer you to a vascular surgeon if you have a health problem that involves your blood vessels. Sometimes, it may be because of a symptom that could be a sign of a vascular problem. For example, pain in your legs may mean you have peripheral artery disease. 

Also, people with conditions that can affect their blood vessels, like diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and those who smoke, may benefit from seeing a vascular specialist for a screening.

What to Expect at the Vascular Surgeon

At your first appointment, your vascular surgeon will ask about your medical and family history. Bring a list of your current medications and medical conditions. You should also bring any recent blood work results and diagnostic tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound studies, or computed tomography (CT) scans. 

You should wear comfortable clothing that is easy to change out of, since you may need to change into a gown.

After discussing your history, the vascular surgeon will perform an exam in any areas where you’re having problems. They will diagnose your condition and recommend an appropriate treatment plan. It may include further tests, lifestyle changes, medication, surgery, or a combination of any of these. 

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

American Medical Association: “Vascular Surgery Specialty Description.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Overview of the Vascular System.”

UPMC: “What Is a Vascular Surgeon?”

OSU Wexner Medical Center: “What is vascular disease?”

Society for Vascular Surgery: “How to Prepare for an Appointment with a Vascular Surgeon.”

Society for Vascular Surgery: “Vascular Surgery Training Pathways.”

Society for Vascular Surgery: “What is a Vascular Surgeon?”

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