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Cardiac catheterizations are “close at hand”

Omar Wani, M.D., interventional cardiologist

The first cardiac catheterization procedure was performed as an experiment in 1929 in a small German hospital by Werner Forssman. He performed the procedure on himself. He passed a catheter from his numbed, left elbow into the right side of his heart to prove such access would not be fatal.

As the procedure evolved, physicians began using the larger, easily accessible femoral artery in the groin to access the heart. However, drawbacks like being immobilized for hours after a procedure, caused physicians to seek a better location. Today, Forssman’s entry point is close to the preferred location for catheterizations – the wrist.

Using the radial artery near the wrist, rather than the large femoral artery in the groin, is much easier for the patient. It is not nearly as painful and there is much less chance of bleeding and other complications. Not all patients are candidates for this access point, but for those who are, recovery times are much shorter, with less bruising and a quicker return to normal activities. Patients who have had both types of procedures strongly prefer radial artery catheterization for comfort and a faster recovery.

Nurses who specialize in working with cardiovascular patients see a big difference between patients who have the radial artery access and the more common femoral artery access. Patients who have the radial procedure are able to sit up in bed and eat and drink, and get up to use the restroom and move around within an hour or so of the procedure.

Cardiac catheterizations procedures both diagnose and fix many cardiovascular conditions. Most procedures are considered to be minimally invasive because they do not require an instrument to enter the body or large incisions – most incisions are approximately one inch. These procedures usually involve the insertion of a catheter (hollow tube) into the radial or femoral artery. The catheter is guided toward the heart or vascular area through the use of real-time X-ray. In many instances, patients are awake during the procedure, requiring only a local anesthetic. Additionally, many procedures are performed on an outpatient basis, allowing patients to go home within hours of the procedure.

Interventional Cardiology procedures can include balloon angioplasty, carotid stents and stroke intervention, intracoronary stenting, intravascular ultrasound, implantable cardioverter defibrillators, pacemaker insertion, peripheral arterial disease intervention and peripheral atherectomy.

Omar Wani, M.D., interventional cardiologist, is the medical director of Flagstaff Medical Center’s Cardiac Rehabilitation and a member of the Heart & Vascular Center of Northern Arizona. Is there a health topic you’d like to know more about? Please write to Mountain Medicine, c/o FMC Public Relations, 1200 N. Beaver Street, Flagstaff, AZ 86001, or visit FMC’s Web site at