Vascular surgery is a surgical subspecialty in which diseases of the vascular system, or arteries and veins, are managed by medical therapy, minimally-invasive catheter procedures, and surgical reconstruction. The specialty evolved from general and cardiac surgery as well as minimally invasive techniques pioneered by interventional radiology. The vascular surgeon is trained in the diagnosis and management of diseases affecting all parts of the vascular system except those of the heart and brain. Cardiothoracic surgeons and interventional cardiologists manage disease of vessels of the heart. Neurosurgeons and interventional neuroradiologists manage surgical disease of the vessels in the brain (e.g., intracranial aneurysms).
Vascular surgery encompasses surgery of the aorta, carotid arteries, and lower extremities, including the iliac, femoral, and tibial arteries. Vascular surgery also involves surgery of veins, for conditions such as May–Thurner syndrome and for varicose veins. In some regions, vascular surgery also includes dialysis access surgery and transplant surgery.
The main disease categories and procedures associated with them are listed below.
The specialty continues to be based on operative arterial and venous surgery but since the early 1990s has evolved greatly. There is now considerable emphasis on minimally invasive alternatives to surgery. The field was originally pioneered by interventional radiologists, chiefly Dr. Charles Dotter, who invented angioplasty. Further development of the field has occurred via joint efforts between interventional radiology, vascular surgery, and interventional cardiology. This area of vascular surgery is called Endovascular Surgery or Interventional Vascular Radiology, a term that some in the specialty append to their primary qualification as Vascular Surgeon. Endovascular and endovenous procedures can now form the bulk of a vascular surgeon’s practice.
The development of endovascular surgery has been accompanied by a gradual separation of vascular surgery from its origin in general surgery. Most vascular surgeons would now confine their practice to vascular surgery and similarly general surgeons would not be trained or practice the larger vascular surgery operations or most endovascular procedures. More recently, professional vascular surgery societies and their training program have formally separated “Vascular Surgery” into a separate specialty with its own training program, meetings, accreditation. Notable societies are Society of Vascular Surgery (SVS), USA; Australia and New Zealand Society of Vascular Surgeons (ANZ SVS). Local societies also exist e.g. New South Wales Vascular and Melbourne Society of Vascular Surgeons (MVSA). Larger societies of surgery actively separate and encourage specialty surgical societies under their umbrella e.g. Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS).
SIR (Society of Interventional Radiology) remains intimately involved with the practice of endovascular therapy. Many of its members form part of a multi-disciplinary team treating vascular disorders alongside vascular surgeons. Although in many parts of the world vascular surgeons have evolved to now work alone.
Arterial and venous disease treatment by angiography, stenting, and non-operative varicose vein treatment sclerotherapy, endovenous laser treatment are rapidly replacing major surgery in many first world countries. These newer procedures provide reasonable outcomes that are comparable to surgery with the advantage of short hospital stay (day or overnight for most cases) with lower morbidity and mortality rates. The durability of endovascular arterial procedures is generally good especially when viewed in the context of their common clinical usage i.e. arterial disease occurring in elderly patients and usually associated with concurrent significant patient comorbidities especially ischemic heart disease. The cost savings from shorter hospital stays and less morbidity are considerable but are somewhat balanced by the high cost of imaging equipment, construction and staffing of dedicated procedural suites, and of the implant devices themselves. The benefits for younger patients and in venous disease are less persuasive but there are strong trends towards nonoperative treatment options driven by patient preference, health insurance company costs, trial demonstrating comparable efficacy at least in the medium term.
A recent trend in the United States is the stand-alone day angiography facility associated with a private vascular surgery clinic, thus allowing treatment of most arterial endovascular cases conveniently and possibly with lesser overall community cost. Similar non-hospital treatment facilities for non-operative vein treatment have existed for some years and are now widespread in many countries.
An emerging trend based on such venous clinics is the treatment of varicose veins by non-vascular surgeons e.g. cosmetic physicians, phlebologists, radiologists, etc. These practices aim to offer a complete varicose and surface vein treatment without surgery.