Better Alternative to Varicose Veins
Look and Feel Better with Interventional Radiology Treatment Options
Most people know radiologists as the physicians who interpret an X-ray, CT scan, MRI screening and other imaging modalities. The sub-specialty field of interventional radiology, in which radiologists perform clinical procedures, is not as well known. But image-guided treatment offers less invasive alternatives to surgery for a host of common conditions, including varicose veins.
What is interventional radiology?
Using imaging technology, interventional radiologists precisely guide instruments to correct a health condition that would otherwise require more invasive cutting and opening of the body.
“Interventional radiologists pioneered angioplasty [dilation of a blood vessel through balloon inflation delivered through a catheter], and patients know that it has spared many from a more invasive, open surgery,” says Elias Hohlastos, MD, a board-certified interventional radiologist at both Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital and Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. “I explain that interventional radiology is about procedures following the same concept as the cardiac catheter, but for conditions outside the heart.”
In fact, interventional radiologists perform procedures in nearly every body system, including vascular interventions, dialysis, women’s health conditions, gastrointestinal, genitourinary, thoracic, cancer treatment, pain relief and orthopaedics.
Better Options for Women
Interventional radiology has been the source of several advances in women’s healthcare. In addition to image-guided breast cancer treatments, interventional radiology offers a strong alternative for treating uterine fibroids, varicose veins and peripheral artery disease—conditions common among women.
“In the past, painful uterine fibroids were treated through hormone therapy or a hysterectomy [surgical removal of the uterus], causing significant drawbacks for the patient,” says Todd C. Schirmang, MD, a board-certified interventional radiologist at Northwestern Lake Forest and Northwestern Memorial. “Uterine fibroid embolization, a radiologic intervention, was developed partly in response to patients’ concerns about hysterectomies.”
Patients considering traditional surgery for uterine fibroids might benefit from a consultation with an interventional radiologist. An MRI performed by an interventional radiologist, compared with a standard gynecologic ultrasound, provides a clearer image of the fibroids and possible underlying disease.
Interventional radiology also offers a laser-based alternative to traditional varicose vein surgeries that is a less painful route to better-looking, less achy legs.
“We have a 95 percent success rate with our procedures, and patients avoid painful ‘vein-stripping’ at high volume, storefront vein clinics,” explains Dr. Schirmang. “But first, patients should know whether they are a good candidate and rule out other, more serious conditions. Because we are a hospital-based clinic shared with vascular surgeons, we can provide a comprehensive evaluation to assess the feasibility. And patients receive care right here, without traveling far or to multiple locations.”
Look for Expertise, Training
Compared with traditional surgery, interventional radiologic procedures result in fewer complications and less scarring. Recovery is faster, and patients rarely require an overnight stay.
But patients should keep in mind that training is key.
“The distinguishing factor among procedures-based medical specialties resides with training,” explains Dr. Hohlastos. “Other diagnostic-trained radiologists may do some simpler image-guided procedures. But with the expertise of the interventional radiology team at Northwestern Lake Forest, the full range of procedures is available along with a high success and recovery rate.”
Interventional radiologists complete a clinical fellowship, which extends their training well beyond what is required to specialize in radiology. Both Dr. Schirmang and Dr. Hohlastos have completed this additional training and hold faculty appointments at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine. They also see patients at Northwestern Memorial and maintain a strong connection to the hospital’s academic research environment and the latest insights on minimally invasive care.