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Vascular Surgery Overview

Vascular disease effects the body’s circulation – the arteries and veins. Everyone knows about “heart disease,” but fewer know about vascular disease. What most people do not know is that vascular disease attacks critical arteries like the aorta (the body’s main artery), the carotid arteries to the brain, and circulation to the legs and arms. In fact, vascular disease kills and cripples almost as many Americans as heart disease or cancer.

A build-up of plaque and cholesterol in blood vessels – called atherosclerotic occlusive disease – can affect the amount of blood the brain, arms, legs, and abdominal organs receive. As the amount of plaque and cholesterol within the artery increases, there is less room for blood flow to the intended organ or limb. Lack of blood flow can potentially cause a stroke, in the case of the brain, or pain in the legs while at rest or when walking. Many patients with these symptoms have had a history of smoking, high cholesterol or diabetes.

The most serious vascular problems are treated today by vascular surgeons. These highly trained surgical specialists have dedicated their careers to the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of vascular disease. Vascular surgeons complete five years of surgical training with an additional one-to-two years of fellowship training in the diagnosis, medical treatment, critical care, surgical, and endovascular – or minimally invasive – techniques used in treating vascular disease.

The origins of vascular surgery began at the turn of the century with development of techniques to repair arteries and early attempts at transplantation. The modern era of vascular surgery began in the late 1940s with the development of replacement arteries and improved surgical techniques. Today, vascular surgeons perform minimally invasive procedures by using balloons and stents as well as operations on arteries throughout the body to treat blockages and help improve blood flow. Other procedures bypass diseased arteries and replace weakened aneurysmal (enlarged) arteries. Endovascular (minimally invasive vascular procedures) techniques often allow a conventional open procedure that was previously performed in the operating room to be done through a small needle puncture in the groin, with most patients going home the same day as the procedure.

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