Saving limbs and lives: What does a vascular surgeon do exactly?
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
As a vascular surgeon at the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute, I have the opportunity to take care of some of the sickest patients in the hospital, save limbs and lives, and help my surgical colleagues with challenging cases and life-threatening emergencies.
Despite the pretty awesome job description, one of the most common questions I hear from family, friends, and other healthcare professionals is: “What does a vascular surgeon do exactly?”
Vascular surgeons treat conditions of poor circulation in the blood vessels.
We assist with inadequate blood flow problems of the veins and arteries in all parts of the body, except the brain and the heart. Some of the conditions a vascular surgeon treats include:
- Abdominal aortic aneurysm: A bulging, weak spot in the arteries that may be at risk for rupturing
- Atherosclerosis: Plaque buildup inside of arteries that blocks blood flow
- Carotid arterial disease: A narrowing of the blood vessels that carry blood and oxygen to the brain
- Peripheral arterial disease: A slow and progressive circulation disorder that affects the brain, legs, and feet
- Varicose veins: Enlarged, twisted veins found throughout the body and especially in the legs
- Venous thrombosis: When a blood clot blocks a vein
Vascular surgeons do more than just surgery.
We’ll help you manage your vascular condition with a treatment plan tailored to your health needs. This may include making healthier choices through diet and exercise or medicines that decrease your risk of blood clots. A vascular surgeon can also perform catheter-based procedures to open arteries or veins without traditional open surgery.
Vascular surgeons assist with stroke care.
A stroke can occur when vascular disease develops in the carotid arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the brain. A vascular surgeon can perform an urgent procedure to clear the artery or monitor the level of blockages in the artery to decide whether surgery is needed.
Vascular surgeons save limbs.
West Virginia has the ninth highest amputation rate in the country for vascular disease and diabetes, and it's highly preventable. Using advanced technology and minimally invasive procedures, a vascular surgeon can provide a better quality of life for patients with peripheral arterial disease and other circulatory issues.
Take action to protect your vascular health:
- Keep your veins and arteries healthy by seeing your primary care provider regularly and managing any health conditions with the appropriate diet, exercise, and medication.
- Quitting smoking is the most important thing you can do to improve your vascular health.
- You’re at high risk for vascular problems if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, kidney disease, if you are a smoker, or if you have a strong family history of vascular disease. Talk with a WVU Medicine primary care provider to determine if you need to see a vascular surgeon.
If you experience the following vascular conditions, call 911 or go to the emergency department:
- Blue or white feet/toes
- Serious foot infection
- Sudden belly or chest pain with a history of aneurysms
- Sudden, unrelenting leg or foot pain