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Say goodbye to heart worries

February is American Heart Month, but that's no reason to wait to talk to your doctor about heart health. Cardiac catheterization can help test for and treat heart disease.

With the right equipment and training, a cardiologist can safely find and fix many heart problems from the inside—with no chest incision required.

One such method is cardiac catheterization. It involves the use of a catheter—a long, thin, flexible tube that’s inserted into a blood vessel in the groin or arm. From there, the catheter is carefully advanced to the heart, where it can be used to do a number of tests and treatments.

Cardiac catheterization can help your doctor determine if you’ve coronary heart disease or valvular heart disease. It’s often used to diagnose and treat chest pain—a symptom of coronary artery disease that occurs when blood vessels that feed the heart become narrowed or blocked.

To identify problem blood vessels, the catheter is advanced to the heart and dye is injected into the arteries that are illustrated on a monitor using x-rays known as fluoroscopy.

If a narrowed vessel is found, the catheter can be used to do an angioplasty—a procedure in which a tiny balloon is moved to the blockage and inflated to expand the artery.

What to expect

If you need cardiac catheterization, your doctor will explain how to prepare for the procedure. Usually it’s done as an outpatient procedure at the hospital. You’ll be awake, but will be given medicine to help you relax.

Under local anesthesia, a small incision is made in the femoral artery in the groin, and a tapered tube called a sheath is inserted. Aided by special x-rays, the doctor threads a thin, flexible guide wire through the sheath to the heart. The catheter is fitted over the wire and positioned so that the coronary artery anatomy can be delineated.

After the procedure, the catheter, wire and sheath are removed and pressure is held over the blood vessel to mitigate the bleeding. In some cases, closure devices are used to assist with minimizing bleeding and speeding recovery time. You’ll be monitored for two to three hours. If intervention is performed, a balloon or stent will be used.

Serious complications are very rare. Common side effects may include bruising in the groin at the site of the catheter.

If you have an artery in your heart that is partially blocked, your doctor may suggest angioplasty, a procedure using a balloon or stent to reduce the blockage in the artery. More than 600,000 angioplasties are done each year in the U.S., which makes them common—but not necessarily routine.

“Informed consent is necessary because of the seriousness of the procedure,” said John Williams, MD, cardiologist. “Despite the fact that most people are back to work within a few days after angioplasty, it still doesn’t negate the fact that it is a life-threatening procedure.”

After it’s over

The major benefit of being able to successfully perform angioplasty is that it delays or obviates the need for coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG). In general, angioplasty is a temporizing procedure. Statistically speaking, a high percentage of people who undergo angioplasty at one time in their lives will ultimately have CABG. This latter procedure does reduce the need for multiple interventions, which are sometimes required when using angioplasty.

CABG is the most common type of open-heart surgery in the U.S. It’s also known as bypass surgery, heart bypass surgery and coronary artery bypass surgery.

“Traditionally, open-heart surgery requires the chest to be opened, and the patient is placed on a heart/lung machine,” said Dr. Williams. “There are many new alternatives to this type of surgery, one being minimally invasive. This can be used when certain arteries are amenable to being bypassed without the chest being opened.”

Jackson Hospital Heart Center renovations

Our hearts are set on you…

Jackson Hospital is a leader in heart care for the River Region and is home to the area’s only Accredited Chest Pain Center.* These busy services recently underwent an expansion to better serve the community’s needs. The renovations were made possible in part by donations to the Jackson Hospital Foundation and proceeds from the annual Swinging Fore Healthcare golf tournament.

Enhancements will help improve patient care and provide comfortable space for waiting family members. Highlights include:

  • 15,000-square-foot renovation of the cardiac catheterization lab
  • An 11-bed patient holding area
  • Separate patient consultation area
  • Four procedure rooms (two digital cardiac cath suites, one procedure room and one room for future expansion)
  • Cosmetic renovation of the cardiovascular intensive care unit waiting room, including an eating area and grouped seating for enhanced privacy

*By the Society of Cardiovascular Patient Care

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