Best Route To Heart May Be Through Your Wrist

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More than one million Americans a year get cardiac catheterizations.

Some cardiologists are pushing for an alternative approach to snaking catheters into the arteries feeding the heart. Going through an artery in the wrist, instead of the groin, poses a lower risk of bleeding, they say.

Let's be clear, this isn't a post about Valentine's Day, or anything else romantic.

Just the opposite. If you've got real, honest-to-goodness heartache caused by medical problems, there's a pretty good chance you'll get a catheter snaked into the arteries feeding your heart to check for a blockage and maybe put in some stents. More than one million Americans a year get these cardiac catheterizations.

Usually the doctor gets started with an incision in your groin and pushes the catheter through a femoral artery. Not fun. But, as the Wall Street Journal's Ron Winslow reports, some cardiologists are pushing an alternate route.

They say going through an artery in the wrist, though a little more demanding on the doctors, has safety advantages for the patients. Snaking the catheter through a radial artery lowers a patient's risk of bleeding.

In the U.S., only about 8 percent of catheterizations are done through the wrist, though that's about quadruple the rate of of four years ago. In some European countries more than half the procedures are done through the wrist.

As one patient who'd had catheterizations both ways told Winslow about the newer method, "It was like going from something caveman archaic to modern medicine."

Poor circulation can mean the wrist approach isn't a good idea. Ask your doctor about the alternatives, if you're interested.

And don't be bashful about asking if the procedure is really necessary. A big study published last year found that about 200,000 Americans who undergo angiograms each year don't get very useful information from the tests. The problem is, it's hard to know ahead of time who will benefit and who won't.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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