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What is Interventional Cardiology?

Interventional cardiology is the treatment of heart disease without surgery, through the use of catheters. Primarily this is via a procedure called cardiac catheterization, where a long, thin, flexible tube, called a catheter, is threaded through a vein or artery up towards the heart. The catheter can be used to inject dye for x-rays, open narrowed artery walls, widen heart valves, place stents, or perform other tests and procedures.

Cardiology is a large specialty, and covers many diseases and disorders of the heart as well as several different kinds of treatments. What makes interventional cardiologists special is their ability to use minimally invasive procedures to treat heart disease. Interventional cardiologists may treat coronary artery disease and peripheral artery disease, where blood vessels become narrowed or blocked. They also may repair or replace damaged heart valves.

During a cardiac catheterization, the interventional cardiologist inserts the catheter into a blood vessel through a small incision in the groin or arm. It is then threaded to the blocked artery or into the heart, where tiny tools can be passed through the tube. These tools are used to perform percutaneous coronary interventions, or procedures done to the heart and arteries via catheter. Procedures may include:
  • Angioplasty, or opening of blocked arteries, often via the inflation of a balloon
  • Atherectomy, the physical cutting away of plaque buildup
  • Stenting, the placement of metal springs to hold artery walls open
  • Heart valve repair or replacement
  • Closure of holes in the heart

That these procedures can be performed without the pain and recovery time of traditional surgery is truly amazing.