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A New Path for Cardiac Catheterization: April 23, 2012

When Mary Kay Belin needed a stent to open a blockage in her heart, surgeons inserted a catheter through her groin and snaked it to the damaged artery. The stent procedure went off without a hitch.

“For me, it was a relatively simple thing,” says Mary Kay.

But she was back in the hospital a day later. This time it wasn’t her heart; doctors advised her to monitor her groin.

“He said to me ‘now you might get, at the point in the groin where the catheter went in, you might get something perhaps the size of an olive a small lump but if you get something the size of a golf ball you need to call,’” says Mary Kay.

The artery in the groin is large and easily accessible, which is why it’s widely used to insert a catheter. But thanks to new technology there’s now more than one way to a person’s heart.

“An improvement in techniques and an improvement in types of equipment that’s smaller allows us to more easily and more safely go in through a puncture holed in the radial artery - the smaller artery in the wrist,” says Dr. Robert Chazal, a cardiologist with Lee Memorial Health System.

Surgeons are accessing the wrist, or radial artery, for a variety of treatments for heart disease.

“Both for diagnostic, that is taking pictures to make a definitive diagnosis, but also can be used for angioplasty or putting in coronary artery stents,” says Dr. Chazal.

Going through the wrist is more comfortable for patients and poses fewer complications.

“They can actually reduce the risk of bleeding because the artery is closer to the surface as opposed to a deeper artery in the leg,” says Dr. Chazal.

Going through the wrist is not always the best choice, for severe blockages or emergency situations, going through the groin is the standard procedure.