Sections of blood vessels that bulge or balloon out abnormally (aneurysms) often may be treated without surgery by interventional radiologists. The doctor threads a thin tube (catheter) into the blood vessel and inserts a device that blocks off the supply of blood to the aneurysm.
Arteriovenous malformations (AVMs)
AVMs are blood vessel abnormalities in the brain or elsewhere. If untreated, AVMs can rupture, causing life-threatening bleeding. Interventional radiologists can often treat these abnormalities without surgery by guiding thin tubes (catheters) to the site and injecting a substance that blocks the supply of blood to the affected blood vessels.
When a patient is bleeding inside the body due to injured blood vessels after an accident or other trauma, the interventional radiologist pinpoints the area of injury with angiography. The doctor injects a clotting substance, such as a gelfoam or tiny coils, through a thin tube (catheter) to stop the bleeding.
Blood clots that form in the deep veins of the lower legs (known as deep vein thrombosis or DVT) can cause chronic swelling and leg pain when walking. There is a risk that the clots will move to the lung (pulmonary embolism) or heart – a potentially life-threatening complication. Interventional radiologists treat DVT by dissolving the clot with thrombolytic therapy. This treatment opens up blood flow and may prevent permanent damage to the blood vessels, a common side effect of DVT.
Blood clot filters
Patients with certain chronic illnesses or other conditions that require prolonged periods of inactivity are at risk of forming blood clots that can travel to the heart or lungs. The interventional radiologist can insert a small filter (called a vena cava filter) into a blood vessel to catch blood clots.
Some types of cancers, such as those of the endocrine system that have spread to the liver, can be treated by delivering cancer-fighting agents directly to the site of a tumor in a procedure known as chemoembolization.
High blood pressure
In some patients with high blood pressure, the condition is caused by a narrowing of the arteries of the kidneys. The problem, called renovascular hypertension, often can be treated with angioplasty and stenting.
Infection and abscess drainage
Patients with a variety of illnesses may develop an area of persistent infection (abscess) in the body. The infection can be drained by inserting a thin tube (catheter) through a small nick in the skin and to the site of the infection.
Urinary tract obstruction
The ureter – the tube that carries urine from the kidneys to the bladder – sometimes becomes blocked by kidney stones or tumors. The interventional radiologist inserts a thin tube (catheter) through a small nick in the skin and into the blocked kidney to drain the urine.
Reprinted with permission of the Society of Interventional Radiology © 2004, www.SIRweb.org. All rights reserved.