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What is arterial blockage?

Coronary arteries are the blood vessels that supply blood directly to your heart muscle. Arterial blockage often can be diagnosed using a cardiac catheterization. Interventional cardiologists diagnose and treat coronary artery diseases and related problems, using advanced minimally invasive cardiac catheterization procedures.

Symptoms

Having major blockages may lead to symptoms such as chest pain (angina) or shortness of breath. Angina may feel like pressure or pain squeezing your chest. You also may feel it in your shoulders, arms, neck, jaw or back. It worsens with activity and fades when you rest. Emotional stress is a pain trigger.

Causes

Blockage is caused by buildup of plaque within the artery, which affects the blood flow, causing various arterial symptoms, depending on the area in which the blockage has formed.

Diagnosis

A cardiologist inserts a catheter into veins and/or arteries through the leg or arm. The catheters are advanced to the right and/or left sides of the heart. Once the catheters are positioned in the various heart chambers or blood vessels, the pressure of the blood in various chambers of the heart can be measured, blood samples can be taken and dye can be injected (a process called angiography) to allow X-ray visualization. The goal of diagnostic catheterization is to identify and diagnose the specific heart problem. The procedure can become an interventional catheterization if the cardiologist determines that the problem can be treated effectively at the same time.

Treatments

  • Interventional catheterization follows essentially the same initial procedure as the diagnostic catheterization, but during it, interventional cardiologists perform actual treatments using specialized catheters. These include balloon catheters that can open up narrowed valves or arteries and catheters with devices that can close extra vessels or certain "holes" in the heart. Interventional catheterizations can be performed using a traditional insertion by entering an artery in the groin. Most of our procedures are performed entering an artery in the wrist. This technique, referred to as a radial artery catheterization, decreases related complications and allows for a quicker recovery.
  • Balloon angioplasty—This minimally invasive procedure performed in our cath lab uses a catheter with a small balloon on its tip designed to open arteries narrowed by plaque buildup. When the interventional cardiologist uses this procedure to inflate the balloon at the blockage site in the artery, the balloon compresses or flattens the plaque against the artery wall.
  • Stent insertion—A stent is made of metal and shaped like a tube. During the insertion procedure, the stent is placed in the narrowed part of the artery and holds it open. The stent remains in the body, but the patient does not feel it.
  • Valvuloplasty—This minimally invasive procedure is used to open a blocked heart valve and can be an alternative to surgery. Heart valves direct the flow of blood through the chambers of the heart and the rest of the body. Valvuloplasty uses a balloon to stretch the valve or break up scars in the valve and restore blood flow.
  • Percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA)/coronary artery stent (PTCA), also known as coronary angioplasty or balloon angioplasty, is used to open up narrow areas in your coronary arteries. Plaque buildup over time may have caused blockages in your coronary arteries.
  • Cardiac catheterization medications—Coumadin (also called warfarin) is a pill prescribed for people who have blood clots or are at risk of forming clots. This medication can lower your risk of heart attack, stroke or even death by decreasing your body’s ability to form clots. Some patients take Coumadin for a short amount of time following a cardiac catheterization interventional procedure, and others need to take it long term.