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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Every year thousands of people have cardiac catheterizations, or angioplasties — a diagnostic test of blood flow to the heart — where a doctor threads a catheter to the heart arteries to look for blockages and other issues. For years, doctors have used the artery near the groin as an access point for this procedure. But now cardiologists at Mayo Clinic are performing this critically useful test by accessing an artery in a patient's wrist. This new procedure eliminates potential complications that can occur in traditional catheterization, physicians say.
"Patients who have radial artery catheterization — reaching the heart through the wrist — don't necessarily even have to get undressed for the procedure," says Michael Levy, M.D., an interventional cardiologist at Mayo Clinic's campus in Florida. "Because the access site is in a small artery that heals up well, patients recover quickly and return to a waiting room when they are done. They have a small bandage on their wrist and nothing else."
In contrast, accessing the heart through the femoral artery in the groin requires patients to lie in bed for hours with heavy pressure on the leg to allow the artery to heal, Dr. Levy says. "That can cause a number of different problems, including drops in blood pressure or changes in heart rate, which can make patients feel sick. Additionally, it can also cause an increased risk of bleeding at the site, as well as damage to the artery or vein in the leg."
This new technique is also now being used in some medical institutions, including Mayo Clinic, to diagnose patients in the emergency room who are experiencing a sudden heart attack and have an urgent need for an angiogram and placement of a stent to correct life-threatening blood blockages. "Clinical studies have shown a survival advantage in patients with a sudden heart attack who had an emergent coronary angiography through the wrist artery," says Dr. Levy.
The popularity of the radial artery catheterization, pioneered in Canada and Europe, is growing in the United States, but must be performed by cardiologists who have been trained in its use and are experienced and skilled, says Dr. Levy.
"Mayo Clinic has been fortunate to have been involved in the education, research, and training of physicians to advance the science of radial artery catheterization," he says. "The benefit to patients is tangible, and we are happy to offer this desirable option."
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