Five things you didn’t know about interventional cardiology

Interventional cardiology allows physicians to treat cardiovascular disease without open heart surgery. Here are five interesting facts about this revolutionary medical specialty.

Interventional cardiology allows physicians to treat cardiovascular disease without open heart surgery. Developed by Andreas Roland Grüntzig, a German radiologist and cardiologist, interventional cardiology uses catheters to diagnose and treat narrowed or clogged arteries in the heart. Nowadays, cardiac catheterization procedures employ imaging technology to treat an array of issues, from ischemic heart disease to valve disease to congenital heart abnormalities.

Here are five interesting facts about this revolutionary medical specialty.

  1. Rigorous training for cardiologists. Studying to become a cardiologist can take up to 10 years. Interventional cardiologists require even more advanced training (watch an expert explain exactly what she does). The brightest interventional cardiologists join the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions (SCAI). Just how difficult is it to get accepted into the SCAI? One of the requirements to become a SCAI fellow is to have performed at least 1,000 procedures.
  1. Dr. Simon Stertzer performed the first surgery in this field in the U.S. in 1978.

Balloon angioplasty of the coronary artery, or percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA), is meant to reduce the risk of heart attack. Unlike traditional heart surgery, which involves opening the chest cavity, angioplasty is a minimally invasive procedure with a 90% success rate. During an angioplasty, a doctor inserts a small balloon-tipped wire-mesh stent through an artery in the groin or wrist to enlarge a narrowing coronary artery, thus restoring blood flow. Each year, about 600,000 people in the United State undergo angioplasty surgery.

The procedure “was met with a significant resistance,” Dr. Stertzer explained in a recent interview. Later, it “revolutionized the manner in which cardiology is now practiced in the United States, and ultimately, in the world,” Dr. Stertzer told Healthcare Weekly. Over the course of his career, Dr. Stertzer has performed more than 12,500 coronary interventions. He later went on to co-found several interventional startups, including BioCardia, a company that develops innovative therapeutics for the treatment of cardiovascular disease.
3. Robots make it easier. The entire healthcare landscape is being shaped by digital technology, and interventional cardiology is no different. Vascular robotic systems, such as CorPath System, allow physicians to precisely control the movement of interventional devices by using a bedside-mounted robotic arm.

Doctors maneuver a set of joysticks and use touch screen controls from the comfort of cockpits that shield them from radiation exposure, a big concern among experts.

  1. It’s not all about the heart. Catheter-based interventions are increasingly being used for all areas of the body. The human body contains a sprawling network of blood vessels leading to the heart. Whenever they get clogged with plaque, containing cholesterol and fatty deposits, the heart pays the price.

A blocked blood vessel in the legs, feet or kidney might result in peripheral artery disease (PAD). Left unchecked, PAD can cause limb loss. It can also cause heart disease; 8 to 12 million people in the U.S. who suffer from PAD are at an increased risk for heart disease, aortic aneurysms and stroke. PAD is usually treated with peripheral vascular intervention, such as a balloon angioplasty.

Watch this video from the American Heart Institute to learn more about PAD.

  1. It’s astonishingly fast. Heart surgery is definitely no walk in the park, but interventional cardiology almost makes it seem easy. Patients who have a catheter intervention are capable of sitting up and walking within two to six hours following the procedure. Post-operative recovery takes less than a week, and although there may be some bruising around the area where the catheter was inserted, there are no scars.