Vascular surgery refers to open surgeries and minimally-invasive procedures that treat a range of blood vessel problems. These include aortic aneurysms, peripheral artery disease, carotid artery disease and chronic venous insufficiency. Common procedures include angioplasty and stenting, arterial or venous bypass surgery and aortic aneurysm repair.
Vascular surgery is an umbrella term for a range of open surgeries and minimally-invasive procedures involving your blood vessels. Your blood vessels are a network of arteries, veins and capillaries that carry blood to and from your heart and nourish your organs and tissues. Many different vascular diseases can damage your blood vessels and raise your risk of complications.
Vascular surgeons diagnose and manage vascular diseases. Sometimes, lifestyle changes and medications can effectively manage your condition. Other times, you may need surgery to prevent the problem from getting worse.
Vascular surgeries include interventions that:
You may need vascular surgery if you have any of the following conditions:
A vascular surgeon evaluates your situation and decides the best treatment for you. Some people need surgery or a procedure along with medications.
Vascular surgeons perform over 100,000 surgeries and procedures each year in the United States. Interventions to treat peripheral artery disease (PAD) are the most common.
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Many types of vascular surgeries and procedures treat a range of blood vessel issues. The type of vascular surgery you need depends on the condition you have.
An aortic aneurysm is a weakened portion of your aorta (the largest artery in your body). You may need surgery to repair an aneurysm if it’s growing too large or causing symptoms. The goal of aortic aneurysm repair is to prevent serious complications like an aneurysm rupture or dissection.
Vascular surgeons use the following surgeries and procedures to repair aortic aneurysms:
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) refers to plaque buildup in the arteries that supply blood to your legs, arms or pelvis. PAD can interfere with your quality of life by causing symptoms like intermittent claudication. It also raises your risk of complications like blood clots and critical limb ischemia (pain at rest or wounds that may progress to gangrene).
Vascular surgeons manage PAD with:
Carotid artery disease refers to plaque buildup in your carotid arteries, which supply blood to your brain. Plaque in your carotid arteries is dangerous because it reduces blood flow to your brain. Vascular surgery improves blood flow and lowers your risk of complications such as stroke or transient ischemic attacks (TIA). If you have carotid artery disease, you may need:
Vascular surgeries that treat other problems with your carotid arteries include:
Your veins collect oxygen-poor blood throughout your body and carry it back to your heart. The veins in your legs contain one-way valves that help blood flow upward, against gravity, so it returns to your heart. Venous diseases damage the valves in your leg veins and prevent them from working as they should. As a result, blood begins to pool in your leg veins. You may experience symptoms (like leg pain or swelling) and complications (like blood clots or venous stasis ulcers or wounds).
Vascular surgery manages venous diseases and their complications. If you have a venous disease, you may need:
Other types of vascular surgery include:
Your surgeon will tell you what to expect before your surgery. Preparation may begin days or weeks in advance, depending on the type of surgery you need, and usually includes a physical exam and testing. You’ll also learn what you need to do on your own to prepare.
Your surgeon talks with you about your symptoms, how you’re feeling and conditions you’ve had in the past. You’ll also discuss your current medications and any allergies you have.
There are many possible tests you may need before vascular surgery. These include:
Your surgeon takes care of the physical exam and testing. But you may need to do things on your own to prepare for a successful surgery. Your surgeon will give you specific instructions that you should closely follow. These instructions may tell you:
Ask your surgeon if you have any questions about these instructions.
What happens during your surgery depends on the condition you have and the specific surgery you need. Your surgeon will tell you exactly what to expect. As a starting point, it’s important to learn whether your surgery will be open or minimally invasive. These are two different approaches that surgeons use to access your blood vessels.
Talk with your surgeon about the type of surgery you need and why.
What happens after varies widely based on your specific surgery. Some vascular surgeries (like aneurysm repair surgery) require a stay in the intensive care unit (ICU). Other procedures (like sclerotherapy) require no hospital stay at all, and you can drive yourself home the same day.
Talk to your surgeon about what you can expect in the hours and days after your surgery. Your surgeon will give you instructions on how to care for yourself, including caring for any incisions.
Vascular surgery can be life-saving. It can also greatly improve your quality of life. Talk to your surgeon about the benefits of your specific surgery.
Vascular surgeries, like all other surgeries, carry some risks. These vary based on the procedure but may include:
Many factors can increase your risk of complications, including:
You can lower your risk by seeking care at a high-volume hospital with experience in vascular surgery. Talk to your surgeon about their experience and outcomes.
Recovery time depends on the surgery. Talk to your surgeon to learn what you can expect. In general, you may need to avoid some activities for at least a day or two afterward. These include driving, climbing stairs, going to work and lifting heavy objects.
Your surgeon will tell you when you need to return for follow-up appointments. Call your surgeon if you have signs of infection or other complications as you recover. These can include:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Vascular surgery treats serious conditions that put your blood vessels — and your whole body — at risk. It’s normal to feel anxious or worried before having any surgery. But your vascular surgeon and the rest of your care team are there to talk about your concerns. Don’t hesitate to ask any question, no matter how small it seems. Your team will help you feel more comfortable as you approach your surgery day and begin your recovery.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/30/2023.
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