New catheters make procedure easier for docs, patients

October 5, 2011

There are more than a million cardiac catheterizations done each year in the U.S. The procedure looks for problems in the heart and can open up vessels, but it can be timely and uncomfortable for patients. But now, a new technique is making things a bit easier.

Joe McCann is no stranger to heart problems.

7 years ago, after bouts of chest pain, doctors threaded a catheter, or thin wire, into McCann's heart and inserted a stent to open up a narrowed artery.

Back then, they inserted the wire through an artery in his groin.

This time, to recheck his heart, Dr. Ronald Fields will thread catheter through McCann's wrist.

He's now doing more of the procedures this way.

"It's about 75-80 percent from the arm now; it used to be 5 percent," Dr. Fields said.

Dr. Fields sees two reasons for the switch from the leg to the wrist.

First, after the procedure, it's much easier to seal the wrist artery to prevent bleeding.

"For one to two hours, they just put the wrist band on, they take it off, and your hand's as good as new," Dr. Fields said.

When it's done through the groin, weights have to put on the incision and patients spend up to 6 hours lying on their back to prevent bleeding. And that leads to the second reason for the wrist approach.

"You can sit up the second they're done with the procedure," Dr. Fields said. That's a godsend to people with back or leg problems.

The wrist approach can be more challenging for doctors because the artery is smaller, but new catheters made specifically for the wrist help.

Joe McCann doesn't have any new blockages. He hopes he won't need another catheterization in the future, but if he does he would choose the wrist catheter.

A recent study done in 32 countries shows both methods are effective, but the wrist method has fewer complications.

Right now, not every hospital does the procedure through the wrist, but Dr. Fields predicts it will become the norm in a few years.

That said, if this is something you are interested in for yourself or a loved one you want to make sure the doctor has experience doing the procedure this way.

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