Did you know that there are over 45 medical specialties in North America that are recognized by the American Medical Association? You can probably name several -- family medicine, pediatrician, cardiologist, gynecologist, dermatologist, and general surgeon are a few that readily come to mind. One you may not have named is the Interventional Radiologist. You may have heard of radiologists as the doctors who read X-rays. They also commonly read CT (also known as cat scans), MRI, mammograms, and ultrasounds. They make a diagnosis based on their interpretation of images. A subset of radiology involves doing procedures using imaging guidance. The doctors who perform those procedures are Interventional Radiologists. Until very recently, Interventional Radiologists were categorized under the broader medical specialty of Radiology. However, the American Medical Association realized that the two have very extensive differences. The Interventional Radiologist's work brings a distinctive set of skills and knowledge to medicine, creating a unique blend that falls between general radiology and surgery. Expertise in imaging allows the Interventional Radiologist to perform many procedures that previously were only done in an operating room. What types of procedures are we talking about? Here are some examples:
- Thrombolysis, a treatment which dissolves potentially life threatening blood clots.
- Angioplasty, in which a balloon is inserted into a narrow or blocked blood vessel to open it back up.
- Nephrostomy tube placement, which is used to drain the kidneys when the normal flow of urine is blocked.
- Chemoembolization, during which treatment is delivered straight to a cancer tumor, and then its blood supply is closed off.
- Kyphoplasty, a treatment used to treat damage or fractures to the back bones (spine).
As you can see, these procedures aren't limited to only certain body parts or systems, but cover a wide variety of patient problems. Best of all, they're all done using minimally invasive techniques- a fundamental characteristic of the Interventional Radiologist's work. This typically means little downtime afterwards and no surgical incision. One more procedure that Interventional Radiologists perform is to treat varicose veins. While several types of doctors are now performing vein treatment, it is a procedure that perfectly calls upon the Interventional Radiologist's skill set. First, varicose veins are diagnosed by an extensive, detailed ultrasound. An Interventional Radiologist has the skill to both perform and read ultrasounds, allowing vein treatment plans to be specific and accurate. Secondly, treatment is done through tiny nicks in the skin using catheters and wires- the same type of equipment often used in the aforementioned procedures. While many people may initially think of surgeons as the doctor who does varicose vein treatment, medical advances have allowed the procedures to be taken out of the operating room and into the skilled hands of Interventional Radiologists.