Overview of Interventional Radiology
Formerly known in radiology as "special procedures," the part of the department now called "interventional procedures" has become a bona fide subspecialty with its own technologists, nurses, and specially trained radiologists.
As their name indicates, interventional radiologists intervene with the body more aggressively than by taking x-rays or injecting dyes. They dilate arteries with balloons and put in tiny devices (stents) that keep the artery dilated, put filters into veins, and drain abscesses deep within the body. Interventional radiologists function as radiologists diagnostically and as surgeons therapeutically. Radiologists are there to make a diagnosis; interventionalists are there to try to fix problems.
When are interventional procedures needed?
Here is a partial list of interventional procedures. New applications are continually being developed.
In the head and neck: CT scan and MRI scan have pretty much taken over the role of head and neck imaging. The only major exception to this is in the evaluation of vascular structures where the best imaging is injecting dye directly. So angiograms are still being done to look at the carotids in the neck and to look for aneurysms and other vascular problems in the head.
In the chest: This is primarily the realm of CT scan and MRI and, of course, the chest x-ray. Many radiologists still consider angiogram to be the gold standard for examining the aorta in the chest. To diagnose potentially life-threatening pulmonary emboli (clots), pulmonary angiograms are often required, although less interventional imaging procedures such as MRI, and especially CT scan may also be used.
Interventional procedures are used in countless places in the abdomen, including the drainage of abscesses and other fluid collections, ultrasound or CT-guided needle biopsies, and interventions involving the abdominal aorta and its branches.
In the extremities, especially the legs, intervention radiology is indispensable in opening the flow to arterosclerotic narrowed vessels.