Feel Your Pulse? That Spot's a Door to Your Heart
Doctors perform thousands of angioplasties every year, threading a catheter through an artery to reach the heart. Typically, they get in through the large femoral artery in the leg. But increasingly, they are using the radial artery in the wrist, where you feel your pulse.
By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
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Greg Beamer has six stents holding open the arteries that feed his heart muscle. The first five of those were put in the traditional way: doctors inserted a tiny tube into the femoral artery in his groin and threaded it all the way up to his heart. When they reached the blockage, they deployed a small tube of wire mesh, a stent, to hold the artery open.
Those stents are keeping him alive, but each time doctors punctured the large femoral artery, they took a risk.
"It's under high pressure," explains Rajiv Gulati, MD, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic. "Patients will often need to lie flat for a number of hours after the procedure because there is risk of the femoral artery bleeding."
For Beamer's sixth stent, doctors took a different route to his heart. They went in through the radial artery in the wrist, where you can feel your pulse. The catheter is threaded up the arm, over the collar bone and directly to the heart. It's a shorter trip, and less risky. Patients can often go home the following day.
Studies confirm a lower risk for the wrist procedure, but not everyone is a candidate. The radial artery must be large enough to accommodate the catheter. In some patients, the radial artery has been used in a bypass operation so it's not available. But in the right patient, it can make for a quicker recovery.
If Beamer needs a seventh stent, he says he will ask for the wrist procedure.
"I know the difference," he says.
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