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Introduction to IR

What is Interventional Radiology?

Interventional Radiology is a unique clinical specialty that uses medical imaging and minimally invasive surgical techniques to treat patients with medical conditions in all body systems. IR is also known as 'image-guided surgery' or 'pinhole surgery'.

IRs are trained in radiology, minimally-invasive procedures as well as clinical management of patients, and offer a crucial service for patients with acute and chronic conditions.

Interventional Radiology: Past, Present and Future

The field of IR has a history of clinical and technical innovation that continues to this day. IR was initially 'angiography' performed for diagnostic purposes. However, Charles Dotter recognised the potential for catheters to be used for intervention. He successfully performed ​the first angioplasty in 1964. 

In the last 50 years, the complexity of procedures has exploded, and IRs became more and more clinically involved. Stents were developed in the late 1960s. IRs began to develop embolisation techniques for bleeding, and thrombolysis to treat clots in the 1970s. The techniques of ablation and chemo-embolisation of tumours was developed in the 80s. By the 90s, there was IR involvement in the majority of body systems. 

The innovative spirit of interventional radiologists continues to this day. There has never been a better time to join the field, as IRs are now taking on a more active role in patient management. Developments in robotics, artificial intelligence and personalised medicine promise to further advance the field, and improve what we can do for our patients.   

Areas within IR

IR has a role in almost every body system. The majority of interventional radiologists have broad training and can perform a wide variety of procedures. However, like surgery, there are different subspecialty areas of IR that focus on treating different conditions.


The main areas are: 

- Vascular. This mostly deals with peripheral arterial and venous disease and aneurysms.

- Non-vascular. The main areas are hepatobiliary and renal/dialysis, uterine fibroids and enlarged prostates.

- Oncology. The main techniques involved are ablation of tumours using heat or cold, and accessing the blood supply of a tumour to deliver chemotherapy.

- Neuro-IR. This mostly deals with acute stroke and aneurysms in the brain. 

IR procedures are now essential for emergency care. Emergency interventions include stopping bleeding in major trauma, clot removal in stroke and drainage of infected organs.



Satisfaction rate of IR trainees in 2018 - the second highest of any specialty or subspecialty


Percentage of NHS trusts that have capacity for a 24/7 IR Service


Shortage of interventional radiologists in the UK


Percentage of medical students who feel their knowledge on IR is adequate

Further Resources

SIR RFS: Introductory guides to common procedures and the basic equipment used in IR. 

The Interventional Initiative. An organisation that produces guides and videos on common IR procedures. 

Which Medical Device. Videos showing IR procedures being performed. 

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