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What is Interventional Cardiology?

By Geisha A. Legazpi
Updated May 17, 2024
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Interventional cardiology is a field of cardiology wherein catheters are used for diagnosis and treatment of heart diseases. The catheter used in interventional cardiology is a long, tubular, flexible instrument inserted through blood vessels in the radial artery in the arm, the femoral artery in the groin, or neck, and threaded to the heart. Through this, an individual’s heart condition can be assessed, a damaged heart valve can be repaired, or a clogged artery can be cleared. Some procedures in interventional cardiology include cardiac catheterization, coronary angioplasty, balloon valvuloplasty, coronary thrombectomy, and cardiac ablation.

Through cardiac catheterization, an interventional cardiologist can assess the severity and extent of heart problems through analysis of the location and size of plaque deposits, assessment of the heart muscles and valves, collection of blood samples, and checking of blood flow and blood pressures in heart chambers. In coronary angioplasty, also known as percutaneous coronary intervention, arteries narrowed by atherosclerosis are widened using stents, which are small metal cylinders inserted into a blood vessel via catheterization. The tip of the catheter has a collapsed stent placed over the balloon. When the target artery has been reached, the balloon is inflated and the stent expands, resulting in widening of the artery wall and improving blood flow. The catheter and balloon are then taken out, and the stent stays in the target artery permanently.

The same principle applies to balloon valvuloplasty. Also called balloon valvotomy, this procedure involves the use of catheter with a balloon on its tip to open an abnormally constricted heart valve, such as in the case of mitral or aortic stenosis. Usually, it is the best option for patients with congenital heart defects. Coronary thrombectomy and cardiac ablation are procedures done in conjunction with catheterization. While coronary thrombectomy is a procedure done for blood clot removal from blood vessel, cardiac ablation is a procedure done to treat heart rhythm problems.

More often than not, interventional cardiology procedures are less invasive, take a shorter period of time to perform, and do not require general anesthesia. Hospital stay and recovery time are both shorter. Interventional cardiology procedures are generally successful in many cases, but there are risks and possible complications associated with these procedures. For example, in angioplasty, the risks include coronary artery damage, heart attack, stroke, kidney damage, and heart rhythm problems, whereas possible complications include bleeding, blood clotting, and restenosis. In addition, not all patients with heart disease can undergo this procedure, such as patients with other comorbid and chronic conditions like diabetes.

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