Give a hand to the wrist

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: December 30th, 2008
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Who could have ever guessed that the best path to unclogging a blocked coronary artery might be through the wrist?

That’s what a group of researchers from Duke University have discovered. They say the new method of performing angioplasties cuts down on the risk of excessive bleeding. It also relieves patients from the discomfort of spending hours lying on their backs.

The finding is significant because angioplasty is one of the most common procedures performed in the United States. About one million of the surgeries are performed every year. It is used to restore the free flow of blood to and from the heart and is much less invasive than coronary bypass surgery.

To perform the procedure, doctors typically thread a balloon-tipped catheter to the heart through an artery in the groin. Once the blockage is reached, the balloon is inflated, and the blockage is removed.

The new method is nearly identical, except the catheter is inserted through the wrist. The Duke researchers say this can cut bleeding by as much as sixty percent. Using the wrist is also less expensive and is better tolerated by many patients, particularly those who are obese.

Although the wrist procedure is becoming more common, it is still rarely performed. The researchers estimate only about one in one-hundred angioplasties are performed through the wrist. Many doctors still favor the more traditional method, largely because the artery in the groin is larger than the artery in the wrist.