Question 26

Discuss the role of interventional radiology in the management of the critically ill.

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College Answer

Therapeutic or diagnostic


CT or US guided drainage of abscess or fluid collections

Coiling of aneurysm

Embolisation of bleeding vessel Regional thrombolysis or clot removal TIPS procedure

Angioplasty for vasospasm Coronary intervention 
IVC filter insertion

Angioseal of cannulated vessel eg inadvertent arterial insertion of vascath Vascular access eg Hickman

Insertion PEG, nasojejunal tubes


Angiography to diagnose vasculitis, cerebral thrombosis, region of haemorrhage (especially intestinal), brain death


May be as effective as surgery (good evidence in aneurysmal SAH) with lower morbidity and mortality

Offers treatment option for patients unsuitable for surgery due to age or co-morbidities Good option in critically ill where surgical risks high eg laparotomy to drain abscess Preferred strategy in management pelvic trauma 
May avoid hysterectomy in post-partum haemorrhage


Specific expertise needed but increasingly widespread

Needs to be performed in radiology suite with the risks and difficulties of managing a critically ill patient in a ‘hostile’ environment

Surgical back-up needed if intervention fails Risk of contrast use (allergy, CIN) Complications specific for each procedure


These "discuss the role" questions are difficult to answer in a systematic fashion. The college suggests we "explain the underlying key principles".

The provided answer divides the issue into therapeutic and diagnostic roles, and then discusses the limitations of interventional radiology as a whole. This sort of structure lends itself well to a tabulated format.

The Role of Interventional Radiology in Critical Care
Application Role Advantages and Limitations
  • Exposure to IV contrast
  • Risks of vascular access
  • Risks of transport ("hostile" environment of the interventional radiology suite)
  • Demand for skilled operators
Diagnostic Diagnosis of cerebral vasculitis
Localisation of intestinal haemorrhage
  • Opportinuty to embolise within the same procedure
Gold standard for confirmation of brain death
  • Preferred strategy
  • More invasive than Tc99 HMPAO
Therapeutic Radiologically guided drainage
  • Less invasive than surgical approach
Coiling of aneurysms
  • Equivalent to surgery in efficacy
Vasospasm vasodilation
  • Preferred strategy
TIPS procedures
  • Safer than surgical shunt
Embolisation of bleeding vessels
  • Available when surgical control fails
Coronary intervention
  • Preferred strategy
IVC filter insertion
  • Preferred strategy
Vascular access
  • Available when all other approaches fail


Harris, K. G., et al. "Diagnosing intracranial vasculitis: the roles of MR and angiography." American journal of neuroradiology 15.2 (1994): 317-330.

Hunnam, G. R., and C. D. R. Flower. "Radiologically-guided percutaneous catheter drainage of empyemas." Clinical radiology 39.2 (1988): 121-126.

Nicolaou, Savvas, et al. "Ultrasound-guided interventional radiology in critical care." Critical care medicine 35.5 (2007): S186-S197.