What does a Vascular Surgeon do?

Michelle Arevalo

A vascular surgeon specializes in the treatment of disorders of the vascular and lymphatic systems. The vascular system consists of all the body's arteries and veins, while the lymphatic system transports vital blood components from the veins and arteries to the cells. This type of surgeon performs nearly all venal or arterial surgery, with the exception of procedures done to vessels within the brain and heart — these are typically performed by a neurosurgeon or cardiothoracic surgeon.

Vascular surgeons operate on the arteries and veins.
Vascular surgeons operate on the arteries and veins.

Until the 1970s, most vascular surgery was a responsibility of general surgeons. During that decade, however, medical professionals in Great Britain, Australia and the United States successfully lobbied to create training programs for surgeons who specialized in vascular surgical techniques. In the US, a vascular surgeon must complete a five-year general surgical residency followed by one to two years of additional surgical training focused on the vascular system.

Body's vascular system.
Body's vascular system.

Sometimes referred to as vascular surgical physicians, these specialists may prescribe medication or therapy, order non-invasive diagnostic testing and perform a variety of diagnostic and surgical procedures. While traditional vascular surgery usually focused on the treatment conditions such as aneurysms and embolisms, current vascular surgery includes many endovascular procedures. Endovascular procedures generally involve the placement of catheters or stents to maintain open arteries or veins.

A vascular surgeon consults with patients before and after surgery.
A vascular surgeon consults with patients before and after surgery.

Vascular surgery is also often used to treat abdominal aneurysms or help prevent strokes. If found in advance, a specialist may surgically treat blocked arteries in the neck or upper chest to help prevent a possible stroke. He or she may also surgically address vascular trauma or surgically redirect blood vessels in patients with poor circulation due to conditions such as diabetes and peripheral vascular disease.

A vascular surgeon may focus on treating conditions like aneurysms and embolisms.
A vascular surgeon may focus on treating conditions like aneurysms and embolisms.

Patients with problems of the lymphatic system, such as lymphedema, may also require the care of a vascular surgeon. Lymphedema is the retention of the fluids that carry blood products from the vessels to the cells. A surgeon may also consult with patients suffering from scleroderma, an autoimmune disease that causes hardening of tissues, or Raynaud's syndrome, a disorder of the extremities that is characterized by blood vessel spasms and decreased blood flow.

Although this medical specialty is a comparatively new one, the number jobs in the field is growing. This may be due to increasing numbers of treatable vascular disorders as well as improved diagnostics that have led to early detection of and intervention for vascular diseases. Since this type of medical care requires great skill, these specialist surgeons are often well paid.

A vascular surgeon will work on issues in the lymphatic system.
A vascular surgeon will work on issues in the lymphatic system.

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Discussion Comments


I am sixty-four years old and tend to have cold hands at all times!


My niece has had several vascular surgeries on her leg, and stents have been inserted to help with the blood flow. The pain is so severe that she can hardly stand it. There has been so much trauma to the leg that when she walks she basically drags it.

She was back to the same problem again and was hospitalized. Several tests were done and the doctors says that the ports or stents that were inserted are clogged. She is on several blood thinners but she continues to clot. She says she wants a second opinion and the care of another doctor. She is only in her 40s. She had to learn to walk again.

I guess my question as her aunt is if there is anything that can stop this continual suffering that has gone on for over a year. I have been praying to God for his guidance and direction for both my niece and the surgeon who has been performing the surgeries.


I had a tkr in 2005. It never got better and my leg swells and hurts all the time. Then I started getting these black marks all over the surgery leg. Now it is moving to the other leg which is hurting all the time.


I have a 14 year old daughter who has a swollen right foot and now it has gone up to the ankle. It has been like this for a year and she has seen different doctors including GPs, orthopedics and plastic surgeons, and they all have done tests including for kidneys and all came out clear. Now I have been referred to the vascular surgeon and I don't know if he/she will be the right person.


I am having numbness in the middle, ring, and pinkie fingers of my right hand (I am right handed). For the past several days, I have been experiencing extreme cold in the whole hand, although way up to the wrist. There is no color change and the episodes last for an hour or so and sometimes longer.

I have been wearing gloves on the hand. I have minimal numbness in the pinkie and ring fingers of the left hand. I am diabetic and a family history of heart disease. I also spend a lot of time on the computer and this may be a contributing factor. I am looking for the appropriate type of doctor to see. Does anyone know if I should seek help from a vascular surgeon, endo, or cardio? I have no insurance so I am trying to save money where I can and eliminate the need for a GP. Thanks. --Carlie


@motherteresa: I also have the same symptoms as you, it is called Raynaud's syndrome. It is a problem with your blood vessels when you are exposed to the cold. You may also notice if you drink alcohol your hands may get hot and swell or get cold and turn white. Avoid the cold or dress warm. There is lots of info online. Good luck!


Children with symptoms of some sort of circulation issue should probably consult a pediatric vascular surgeon, because it is more difficult to test and to detect problems, both vascular and cardiovascular, which could get worse if not detected and treated.


@motherteresa, that does sound like a vascular surgery, rather than a general surgery, problem. While some people do just have poorer circulation- one of the reasons some of us are always cold while other people claim to be always warm- if this is something that specific and/or it has gotten worse, it should be looked at by a doctor.


Interesting information. I have a condition where my fingertips begin to get numb, and turn white, only on two of my fingers when the temperature falls below 65 Fahrenheit, and I am not dressed sufficiently.

So I should actually see a vascular surgeon. Most likely that would be the specialty best suited to diagnose, and possibly treat this condition.

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