What is a vascular surgeon?

A vascular surgeon is a specialist who diagnoses and treats problems with your blood vessels. You have 60,000 miles of blood vessels throughout your body. These include arteries, veins and lymphatic vessels. Vascular surgeons are experts on these blood vessels. They understand how each one works and what can go wrong with them. Vascular surgeons help you manage vascular disease so you can live a long and productive life.

Vascular surgeons see people in both the inpatient and outpatient settings. They provide treatments that help prevent stroke and aneurysm rupture and help relieve symptoms from blocked arteries.

Vascular surgeons are highly skilled at solving serious medical problems and working with complex anatomy. Known as the “surgeon’s surgeon,” they’re often involved in complex cases, as well as assisting when complications occur in other areas of surgical specialties.

Vascular surgeon training

Vascular surgeons have 13 to 15 years of formal education and training beyond high school. They complete four years of college (undergrad) and four years of medical school. Then, they spend five to seven years in a surgical residency program. They complete rigorous training and exams. These lead to board certifications in vascular surgery.

Vascular surgeons vs. vein specialists

Vascular surgeons gain expertise in all aspects of pathology that affect blood vessels throughout your body. While some vascular surgeons may choose to do venous work, most treat the entire spectrum of vascular disease.

Vein specialists often aren’t vascular surgeons, but rather, doctors of other fields who’ve done some training in venous treatment.

What does a vascular surgeon do?

Vascular surgeons care for people who have diseases that affect their blood vessels. They diagnose diseases and create treatment plans. They provide a range of medical treatments, including lifestyle modifications, medications, exercise programs and diet programs. They also perform procedures and surgeries to treat vascular diseases. These range from minimally invasive catheter-based percutaneous procedures to complex open surgeries.

Your vascular surgeon will get to know you as an individual and support you for a long time to come. That’s because vascular surgeons are trained in helping people with long-term conditions that need care over many years. Many people with blood vessel problems have other health conditions. This means their treatment plans are complex. Vascular surgeons work with other specialists to coordinate your care every step of the way.

What diseases do vascular surgeons diagnose and treat?

Vascular surgeons manage a wide range of conditions that affect your blood vessels, including:

  • Aortic aneurysms.
  • Atherosclerosis (most common).
  • Blood clots.
  • Carotid artery disease.
  • Cerebrovascular disease.
  • Chronic venous insufficiency.
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
  • Dialysis access.
  • Diabetes-related foot ulcers.
  • Endoleak.
  • Intestinal ischemic syndrome.
  • Thoracic outlet syndrome.
  • Peripheral artery disease.
  • Popliteal artery entrapment syndrome.
  • May-Thurner syndrome.
  • Stroke.
  • Superficial venous thrombosis.
  • Takayasu’s arteritis.
  • Varicose veins.

What tests does a vascular surgeon use to diagnose me?

Vascular surgeons and their teams diagnose blood vessel problems using many different tests. These include:

What procedures do vascular surgeons perform?

Vascular surgeons are trained to perform many procedures, including:

When should I see a vascular surgeon?

You should see a vascular surgeon if you have a condition that prevents your blood vessels from working as they should. Healthy blood vessels keep blood moving throughout your body to all of your organs. Damage to one or more of your blood vessels can affect your whole body. That’s why vascular surgeons play such an important role in finding out what’s wrong and fixing the problem.

Your primary care doctor will recommend you see a vascular surgeon if you have blood vessel problems that need specialized care. This is usually how people visit a vascular surgeon for the first time. But you might also need a vascular surgeon unexpectedly, such as in a medical emergency.

Hearing the word “surgeon” can feel intimidating. Many people don’t know what a vascular surgeon is until they need one. Vascular surgeons do much more than surgery. They treat many issues with prescription medication, lifestyle changes and minimally invasive procedures. But if you do need surgery, your condition may still need surveilling, and you may need to continue seeing your vascular surgeon long-term. Together, you’ll keep an eye on things and catch any new problems that come up.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

If your doctor referred you to a vascular surgeon, you probably have lots of questions. Why do I need a vascular surgeon? What’s going to happen next? Do I need surgery? Vascular surgeons treat a wide range of conditions and provide many different treatment options. So, you may not need surgery. But if you do, your vascular surgeon will explain why and tell you exactly what’s involved. Each person has unique needs and concerns. Vascular surgeons and their teams give you personalized care from diagnosis through recovery.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/24/2022.

References

  • American College of Surgeons. What are the surgical specialties? (https://www.facs.org/education/resources/medical-students/faq/specialties) Accessed 8/24/2022.
  • American Medical Association. Specialty profiles. (https://www.ama-assn.org/residents-students/specialty-profiles/what-its-be-vascular-surgery-shadowing-dr-aziz) Accessed 8/24/2022.
  • Association of American Medical Colleges. Careers in Medicine, Specialty Profiles. (https://www.aamc.org/cim/explore-options/specialty-profiles) Accessed 8/24/2022.
  • Aune A, Fazendin JM, Asban A, Mallick R, Chen H, Lindeman B. What does the average person know about endocrine and vascular surgeons? (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31323389/) J Surg Res. 2019 Dec;244:348-351. Accessed 8/24/2022.
  • Society for Vascular Surgery. Multiple pages. (https://vascular.org/patients-and-referring-physicians/common-questions/what-vascular-surgeon) Accessed 8/24/2022.
  • Vascular Quality Initiative. SVS VQI Procedures Collected. (https://www.vqi.org/about/vqi-procedures-collected/) Accessed 8/24/2022.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy