SEATTLE, May 10, 2002 – Surgery is the most common treatment for clearing blocked neck arteries. But is there a less invasive alternative? That's what researchers at Swedish and other leading medical institutions are trying to understand.
Blockages in the neck's carotid arteries – the vital pipelines that supply blood and oxygen to the brain – account for one-third of the 500,000 strokes that occur in the United States each year.
The standard treatment is an operation known as carotid endarterectomy, which involves surgical removal of the blockage. About 170,000 cases are performed each year, with very good success rates.
But the procedure requires a two- to three-day hospital stay. And some people – those with heart or lung disease, with prior surgery or radiation to the neck, and the elderly – are prone to complications.
Over the last seven years, doctors have begun testing a nonsurgical approach, similar to treatments used on heart arteries. It involves opening blocked neck arteries with angioplasty and tiny mesh coils called stents.
During the procedure, which does not require anesthesia, a catheter is inserted into the groin artery (like in a heart procedure) and threaded to the blockage in the neck. A small protective filter is placed above the blockage, and then a balloon is inflated to open the artery. A stent is implanted to further expand it and improve blood flow to the brain.
Carotid stents may provide a new option for patients with carotid artery blockage.
"Once its effectiveness has been proven, I think stenting will be an attractive alternative to surgery," says William Gray, M.D., director of Endovascular Care at the Swedish Heart Institute. "Patients, as a result, will benefit from less-invasive procedures and shorter recoveries."
Dr. Gray, the principal investigator for carotid-stent studies at Swedish, has performed more than 200 carotid-stent cases since 1996. These results are being published in the April 2002 issue of the American Heart Association journal Stroke. To learn more about these studies at the Swedish Heart Institute, call (206) 215-3989.
For an update on these studies via a March 7, 2004 Reuters news-service article, click here.