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What is interventional radiology?

Interventional radiology is a rapidly growing area of medicine. Interventional radiologists are physicians who specialize in minimally invasive, targeted treatments performed using imaging guidance. Interventional radiology procedures are an advance in medicine that replace open surgical procedures. They are generally easier for the patient because they involve no large incisions, less risk, less pain and shorter recovery times.

Who are interventional radiologists?

Interventional radiologists are medical doctors who have specialized in doing medical procedures that involve radiology. Radiologists use imaging equipment such as X-rays, magnetic resonance (MR) imaging, ultrasound and computed tomography (CT) to diagnose and treat disease. IRs are board certified radiologists that are fellowship trained in percutaneous interventions using guided imaging. Their specialized training is certified by the American Board of Medical Specialties.

How did interventional radiology develop?

The improved ability to see inside the body with radiologic imaging and the development of tools such as balloon catheters, gave rise to interventional radiology (IR) in the mid-1970s. Interventional radiologists pioneered coronary angiography and other minimally invasive procedures that are commonplace in medicine today. In 1992, the American Medical Association officially recognized IR as a medical specialty, and today there are more than 5,000 interventional radiologists in the United States.

What are the advantages of interventional radiology?

  • Most procedures can be performed on an outpatient basis or require only a short hospital stay.
  • General anesthesia usually is not required.
  • Risk, pain and recovery time are often significantly reduced.
  • The procedures are sometimes less expensive than surgery or other alternatives.

Where is interventional radiology headed in the future?

As technology advances and high-quality imaging equipment becomes more widely available, interventional radiology is able to offer patients and referral physicians a host of new treatment options.

Common Interventional Procedures

Angiography An X-ray of the arteries and veins to 1diagnose blockages and other blood vessel problems; uses a catheter to enter the blood vessel and a contrast agent (X-ray dye) to make the artery or vein visible on the X-ray.
Balloon Angioplasty Opens blocked or narrowed blood vessels by inserting a very small balloon into the vessel and inflating it. Use by IRs to unblock clogged arteries in the legs or arms (called peripheral vascular disease or PVD), kidneys (called portal hypertension), brain or elsewhere in the body.
Biliary Drainage and Stenting Uses a stent (small mesh tube) to open up blocked ducts and allow bile to drain from the liver.
Central Venous Access Insertion of a tube beneath the skin and into the blood vessels so that patients can receive medication or nutrients directly into the blood stream or so blood can be drawn.
Chemoembolization Delivery of cancer-fighting agents directly to the site of a cancer tumor, currently being used mostly to treat cancers of the endocrine system and liver cancers.
Embolization Delivery of clotting agents (coils, plastic particles, gel, foam, etc.) directly to an area that is bleeding or to block blood flow to a problem area, such as an aneurysm or a fibroid tumor in the uterus.
Fallopian Tube Catheterization Uses a catheter to open block fallopian tubes without surgery, a treatment for infertility.
Gastrostomy Tube Feeding tube inserted into the stomach for patients who are unable to make sufficient food by mouth.
Hemodialysis Access Use of angioplasty or thrombolysis to open blocked grafts for hemodialysis which treats kidney failure. Diagnostic test for breast, lung and other cancers, an alternative to surgical biopsy.
Laser Treatment of Varicose Veins Laser (or endovenous) ablation of varicose veins is a non-surgical procedure performed by an interventional radiologist with special training in image guided, minimally invasive techniques to treat a wide variety of conditions that once required surgery.
Radiofrequency (RF) Ablation Use of radiofrequency (RF) energy to kill cancerous tumors.
Stent A small flexible tube made of plastic or wire mesh, used to treat a variety of medical conditions (e.g., to hold open clogged blood vessels or other pathways that have been narrowed or blocked by tumors or obstructions).
Stent-graft Reinforces a ruptured or ballooning section of an artery (as aneurysm) with a fabric-wrapped stent, a small, flexible mesh tube used to "patch" the blood vessel. Also know as an endograph.
Thrombolysis Dissolves blood clots by injecting clot-busting drugs at the site of the clot.
TIPS (Transjugular Intrahepatic Portosystemic Shunt) A life-saving procedure to improve blood flow and prevent hemorrhage in patient with sever liver dysfunction.
Uterine Artery Embolization An embolization procedure of uterine arteries to stop life-threatening postpartum bleeding, potentially preventing hysterectomy. The same procedure is used to treat fibroid tumors and is then called UFE (Uterine Fibroid Embolization).
Varicocele Embolization A treatment for "varicose veins" in the scrotum, which can cause make infertility and pain.
Vena Cava Filter A tiny cage-like device that is inserted in a blood vessel to break up clots and prevent them from reaching the heart or lungs.
Vertrebroplasty Injection of bone cement into the spine to alleviate pain caused by fractured vertebra, a common result of osteoporosis.