From an interview with
Dr. Alan Blaker
Interventional Cardiologist, McLeod Cardiology Associates
The coronary arteries are the vessels that supply oxygenated blood to the heart. Plaque, which is a collection of calcium, cholesterol, and fat, can build up in these vessels, restricting blood flow to the heart and causing a heart attack or stroke.
When a patient has blocked coronary arteries, the standard method of treatment is to open the artery with a small balloon over a tiny wire placed across the blockage. Then a stent – a small metal mesh tube – is deployed in the blocked artery that helps keep the artery open.
In some patients, the soft plaque in the arteries undergo changes with heavy deposits of calcium, becoming a hard plaque that doesn’t respond well to balloon dilation.
For patients with severely calcified arteries, this calcium can present complications. The severity of the calcium buildup can limit the physician’s access to the artery with the balloon, as well as prevent placement of the stent in the desired location. Of the approximately one million patients that undergo a stent procedure each year, 30 percent have problematic calcium that increases their risk for adverse events, according to the American College of Cardiology.
At McLeod, cutting-edge technology called Intravascular Lithotripsy allows Interventional Cardiologists to restore blood flow to the heart by safely penetrating the problematic calcium using sonic pressure waves. Once opened, the artery can then be expanded, and bloodflow restored with the placement of a stent.
This technology is an adaptation of the lithotripsy used for decades to safely break up kidney stones. During the procedure, sonic pressure waves, also known as shockwaves, fracture the calcium with minimal trauma to normal arterial tissue.
Calcium deposits in the arteries are not related to diet or any supplements taken. They occur because the cells in the blood vessels are not working as they should. This can be a sign of heart disease or simply getting older.
While coronary calcification can happen at any age, the prevalence occurs in 90 percent of men and 67 percent of women older than 70. Those with high body mass index, high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic kidney disease or a family history of coronary calcification are more susceptible.
The best way to prevent or slow the progression of calcium build-up in the coronary arteries comes from living a healthy lifestyle. This includes:
Calcium buildup in the coronary arteries is not reversible, but with this innovative therapy for the treatment of advanced heart disease, McLeod Interventional Cardiologists are able to safely modify the calcified plaque, returning more patients back to a quality of life they once knew.
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