As a newer medical specialty, interventional radiology is not as well-known as more traditional specializations, which is why, as a patient, it is important to acquaint yourself with the basic elements of this field. The number of patients opting for interventional radiology treatments as opposed to surgical procedures is consistently rising in Western countries. As a result, information on interventional radiology is frequently sought after in Europe, Canada and the United States.
Interventional radiology (also known as IR) is a medical specialization consisting of imaging procedures meant to diagnose and treat by inserting catheters or wires into the body of the patient. These procedures are minimally invasive causing pain only at the site of insertion. The patient is relaxed, but not asleep during the procedure because only local (and not general) anesthesia is used. This type of treatment is considered alternative and more advanced than traditional surgery because the insertion made through an incision in the skin leaves less scarring than in open surgery.
IR started as a subspecialty of diagnostic radiology and is now considered a therapeutic specialty in its own right. Today, it consists of both invasive diagnostic imaging and image-guided therapeutic procedures that are minimally invasive.
Interventional radiology treatments rarely last longer than five hours or less than thirty minutes, the average duration being that of two hours. But, their level of risk is not indicated by duration. Instead, it depends on the amount of radiation that is being used. Nevertheless, the benefits outweigh the risks which, usually, consist of the chance of infection or profuse bleeding.
According to a well respected interventional radiologist in Phoenix, the best known benefits/advantages of IR include: limited pain, low risk of infection, very little blood loss, faster recovery time, moderate sedation (for patients who do not tolerate general anesthesia). Pertinent examples of IR treatments are: stenting, thermal ablation, embolization, thrombolysis, angioplasty and biopsy. Most of them are used for treating: strokes, cancer, vascular diseases and uterine fibroids.
Labs, Equipment and Imaging Techniques
IR procedures are performed in a Cath Lab (Catheterization Laboratory) or an Angiography Suite. The instruments used in IR treatments are usually catheters guided through blood vessels or through the skin. However, other types of equipment include sheath systems, puncture needles and guidewires. Similarly, the imaging techniques used in IR procedures consist of: live X-ray diagnosis, ultrasound, fluoroscopy and ultrasound.
The IR staff includes nurses and physicians. The IR nurses are highly qualified. They are trained to assist the MD in IR treatments and diagnoses. Moreover, the physician specializing in IR is known as an interventional radiologist who treats vascular and non-vascular conditions and, sometimes, works closely with vascular surgeons by using medical imaging to support surgical procedures. Furthermore, an interventional radiologist can also be confused with a radiologist. However, it is important to know that the difference between the two is that the latter interprets images of the body in order to diagnose a patient whereas the former both visualizes and treats the body of the patient.
All in all, it pays to learn more about interventional radiology in an age of medical advancement and technical novelty. IR combines both in a system designed to serve and benefit the patient long term.