You’ve been diagnosed with a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and your primary care provider suggests that you see an expert in venous thromboembolism (VTE). You assume that you will receive a referral to a hematologist — a specialist who treats blood clots and other blood conditions such as iron deficiency anemia, sickle cell disease, and leukemia. Instead, your doctor gives you a referral to a Vascular Medicine specialist. Is this the same as a vascular surgeon?
Vascular Medicine is a field of medicine that specializes in medically managing any disease or conditions related to our vascular system. A Vascular Medicine specialist will evaluate and treat patients with arterial, venous or lymphatic disorders wherever this may present. This includes more common issues such as blood pressure and cholesterol management, treating patients for blood clotting disorders, to treating rare diseases that are not well known. We often act as the gate keeper for all vascular diseases and work collaboratively with many other specialties including Cardiology, Hematology, Rheumatology, Vascular Surgery and Interventional Radiology to achieve the goal of providing excellent vascular care. While we do not perform open surgery, we do focus on conservative and minimally invasive therapies in the office.
Our vascular system spans throughout our body and if we combine the entire length of this, it amounts to over 60,000 miles (which is enough to span the earth 2.5 times!). It is a vital circulatory system that delivers oxygen and nutrients and takes away metabolic waste through our body. The vascular system is made up of three important components, the arteries, veins and the lymphatics. Disruption in any of these systems can cause harm to our body and even devastating consequences as in the case of blocked arteries (atherosclerosis, heart attack, stroke, peripheral artery disease) or blood clots in the veins (deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism). Keeping our vascular system healthy is a key to longevity thus many of our medical treatments are aimed at optimizing this through lifestyle, medications and other interventions.
Previously, the vascular system was mostly thought of as the “plumbing” system of our body but we know now that the vessels are more than just a tube that carries blood and lymphatics throughout the body. It has many dynamic properties and also the ability to regenerate and regress. Overall, the field of Vascular Medicine is a relatively new but exciting area where we see constant progress, innovation and cutting-edge science.
If you would like to learn more, a great resource for patient information about common Vascular Medicine topics can be found on the Society of Vascular Medicine website and the Patient information archive pages.
Eri Fukaya, MD, PhD practices Vascular Medicine at the Stanford Vascular Clinics and Advanced Wound Care Center. She is a Clinical Associate Professor of Vascular Surgery at Stanford and is also the Program Director of the Vascular Medicine fellowship program. Dr. Fukaya started the Stanford Vascular and Vein Clinic in 2016.
Dr. Fukaya received her medical education in Tokyo and completed her medical training both in the US and Japan. She joined Stanford in 2015 after completing her fellowship in Vascular Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Fukaya has a special interest in venous disease. She is Double Board Certified in Vascular Medicine and Internal Medicine.