Newswise — Instead of going through the groin during heart catheterizations, physicians can now insert the catheter through a patient’s wrist, a less traumatic and safer option for some patients — especially women.

Standard heart catheterization involves inserting a catheter into the femoral artery in the groin and threading it to the heart to perform a variety of tasks, such as measuring the heart, diagnosing conditions, clearing a blockage, or placing a stent. The new technique, called a radial artery catheterization, inserts the catheter into the radial artery at the wrist.

“The radial artery approach is much safer for women,” said Colin Barker, M.D., cardiologist at the Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center. “A recent study of more than 1,700 catheterizations in women showed the rates of bleeding or vascular complications were 59 percent lower when using the radial artery approach.”

The catheterization begins when a small tube is placed in the radial artery, which is located on the thumb side of the wrist. Using X-ray, the physician guides the catheter up to the shoulder and then down to the heart.

Barker says the radial artery catheterization is safer because the radial artery is located closer to the skin’s surface, which allows bleeding complications to be spotted sooner. It is also more comfortable for patients. The femoral approach requires patients to lay flat for four to six hours after the procedure, while radial artery catheterization patients are sitting up and getting out of bed within minutes. As one of the few doctors in Houston routinely performing this procedure, Barker noted the radial artery catheterization is used in approximately 5 percent of cases in Houston and less than 20 percent of cases in the United States.

Barker said the radial artery catheterization is used in 60 to 80 percent of cases outside the U.S. and has become standard medical practice in Europe. He added that it is not being used as often in the U.S. because it’s a difficult technique that is tedious to learn. More than 80 percent of patients surveyed prefer the radial artery approach, so Barker believes patient preference will help drive up the use of the procedure.

“I’ve seen the benefits it provides my patients, especially women,” Barker said. “I hope the technique becomes more widely available as doctors and hospitals continue to gain experience and proficiency in the procedure.”

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