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Treating strokes and heart problems: New catheter techniques are saving lives

More than a million cardiac catheterization procedures are performed each year in the United States.

DALLAS — From heart procedures to treating stroke, more than a million cardiac catheterization procedures are performed each year in the United States. This minimally invasive procure can be a lifesaver. Now, new research is giving patients another option.

For decades, catheters have been inserted through the groin.

“The way we want to think about this is that all roads lead to Rome," said Karim Al-Azizi, MD, an Interventional cardiologist at Baylor Scott & White Health. "The moment you get into the arteries and the blood vessels, you have access to the rest of the body"

Now, surgeons are accessing a person’s heart and head through their hands.

“Essentially, there are two areas on the hand that we access the arteries for a heart catheterization," Dr. Al-Azizi said. "One is the traditional, right here in the wrist. The other that we wanted to test its safety is right here in the hand, and it's essentially the same artery, but in a different location."

Dr. Al-Azizi is leading the DIPRA study, the first to compare conventional proximal radial artery access to distal radial artery access.

“With the radial artery, there is also an increased risk of these arteries getting damaged and perhaps closing down over time called radial artery occlusion," he explained. "So, distal radial has been shown to have lower radial artery occlusion rates."

Results show the distal radial artery cath was as safe, did not cause more blood loss and did not impact hand function, ultimately giving cardiologists another option.

Hand access for catheters is also used for dialysis patients and could be extremely helpful, as they often need repeat procedures. Now, a longer study is underway.

U.S. interventional cardiologists currently use the hand for catheter-based heart procedures in less than 15% of cases. The approach is more common in Europe, where interventional cardiologists use the arm about half of the time or more.

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