New twist to heart stents

April 29, 2011 5:07:59 PM PDT
There's a new twist on stents. They're a common way for doctors to open a blocked coronary artery. Now there's a new way to insert them in the wrist instead of the groin.

There's controversy here, but some doctors say using the wrist artery gets patients home faster. We have the latest on the wrist vs. groin debate.

Monica Middleton had a heart blockage three weeks ago. Doctors opened it through a tiny spot on her wrist. She had a complication days later so doctors did another heart catherization through the groin.

"If I had a choice I would utilize the wrist. To me, it's a simple procedure; you don't have to lie flat or straight as long," Middleton said.

"People can get up out of bed as soon as we're done. There's none of this four to six hours of laying in bed and having someone push on your groin," UT Health Cardiologist Dr. Colin Barker said.

Dr. Barker has been using the wrist exclusively. He says there are fewer complications like bleeding and bruising.

Here's how it works:

First, they find the blockage using X-rays. That's why the medical team must wear lead vests. One man who did the procedure had an 85 percent blockage, and doctors went in through the wrist to put a stent in to open it.

A catheter goes in the wrist and is threaded into the blockage. A balloon opens it and a metal stent is placed there and opened, making a scaffolding to keep it open. Even in complicated cases, Dr. Barker says it works.

"We got a stent in there and it looks as good as new so hopefully he'll feel good now. And we did it all through the wrist," Dr. Barker said.

But some cardiologists prefer the groin procedure, saying the wrist is harder for the doctor to do and requires re-training.

Dr. Barker is a part of a national study comparing wrist versus groin heart catheters. And it focuses on women.

"Women are generally at higher risk for bleeding complications and hopefully we'll show with the study that women done through the wrist won't have the complications that they've had previously," Dr. Barker said.

For Middleton, who had both procedures in the past weeks, the choice is clear.

"If I had to do it again, I'd take the wrist procedure," she said.

The UT-Health Memorial Hermann study comparing the wrist versus groin artery will take about two years. But if you need a stent, it's an option that's available to you now. Ask your cardiologist for more information.


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