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Treating Patients and Presidents Alike: Artery repair for heart disease

Dr. MacKnaughtIn light of the recently publicized health condition of President Clinton, it may be helpful to understand a few things regarding heart disease and the procedures used to treat patients who developed symptoms of coronary disease.

A Lowell General Hospital cardiovascular specialist, Kirk MacNaught, MD, FACC, of Merrimack Valley Cardiology provides this basic understanding of heart disease as well as the advanced treatments used for treating it:

  • Coronary disease is the medical term used to describe a build up of cholesterol in the arteries that feed blood to the heart. When a build up of cholesterol blocks the artery by more than 60-70%, blood flow to the heart is compromised. At this point patients may start to feel symptoms of chest pain, pressure or tightness.
  • A heart attack is when the artery suddenly becomes blocked 100% by a blood clot that forms on top of cholesterol build up.
  • There are several treatments for coronary disease including medications to lower cholesterol, dilate the arteries, control blood pressure and lower the heart rate. Another treatment is referred to as percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI). This is the procedure that President Clinton had. It is a procedure that is performed almost daily at Lowell General Hospital. 
  • PCI involves passing a very thin wire into the artery that is blocked and passing the wire across the blockage. Over this small wire we bring small balloons into the artery and inflate them (angioplasty). The angioplasty opens the blood vessel up and the stent is put in place. A stent is a very small metal tube (the size of a spring inside a pen). The stent is on a deflated balloon and we bring it into the portion of the artery that is blocked. As the balloon is inflated it deploys open the stent which becomes imbedded into the coronary artery wall and helps keep the artery open.
  • A few facts about coronary stents:
  1. Stents stay in the artery for life
  2. Stents can also be implanted into by-pass grafts to help keep them open
  3. After a stent is implanted it is very important to remain on blood thinners such as aspirin and clopidogrel (Plavix), to help prevent a blood clot from forming inside the stent
  4. There are two main groups of stents: drug-coated and bare metal stents. Drug-coated stents help to prevent scar tissue from building up inside the stent.
  • PCI/Angioplasty is performed at Lowell General Hospital on an emergent basis - when someone is having a heart attack - or effectively* when it is scheduled, similar to President Clinton who had his procedure scheduled because he was having chest discomfort.

* Elective angioplasty at Lowell General is performed as part of the MASS COMM Clinical Trial

Learn more about the full range of cardiovascular services available at the Lowell General Hospital Heart and Vascular Center.

Click here: Find a Physician to locate a cardiologist, or call 1-877-LGH-WELL.

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