Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Things That Make You Go "Wow!"

(Editorial cartoon by Lee Judge / The Kansas City Star (March 24, 2013)and featured at McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge and then hurry on back.)

Thankfully there are scientists, engineers, and technologists who are more forward thinking than the pro-lifer in the cartoon.  As a result, there is some very exciting news on the medical treatment front for people who have heart problems.

Heart care is in the midst of a transformation. Many problems that once required sawing through the breastbone and opening up the chest for open heart surgery now can be treated with a nip, twist or patch through a tube.

These minimal procedures used to be done just to unclog arteries and correct less common heart rhythm problems. Now some patients are getting such repairs for valves, irregular heartbeats, holes in the heart and other defects _ without major surgery. Doctors even are testing ways to treat high blood pressure with some of these new approaches.

All rely on catheters _ hollow tubes that let doctors burn away and reshape heart tissue or correct defects through small holes into blood vessels.

"This is the replacement for the surgeon's knife. Instead of opening the chest, we're able to put catheters in through the leg, sometimes through the arm," said Dr. Spencer King of St. Joseph's Heart and Vascular Institute in Atlanta. He is former president of the American College of Cardiology. Its conference earlier this month featured research on these novel devices.

"Many patients after having this kind of procedure in a day or two can go home" rather than staying in the hospital while a big wound heals, he said. It may lead to cheaper treatment, although the initial cost of the novel devices often offsets the savings from shorter hospital stays.

Not everyone can have catheter treatment, and some promising devices have hit snags in testing. Others on the market now are so new that it will take several years to see if their results last as long as the benefits from surgery do.

But already, these procedures have allowed many people too old or frail for an operation to get help for problems that otherwise would likely kill them.   [Emphasis added]

Yes, it's too soon to tell if the new devices will be as effective as the old open-heart surgery protocol, and, yes, the devices are very expensive at this point.  Further, some devices which have been approved for use in Europe have not (yet) been approved for use in the US.  

That said, the research opens new doors for such treatments as replacing heart valves,and  fixing irregular heart rhythms (fibrillation), heart defects, clogged arteries, and high blood pressure. 

Like I said ...




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