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Treating Adult Heart Conditions

  • Coronary artery disease is primarily treated using a minimally invasive procedure known as cardiac catheterisation. In this procedure, a special flexible tube (or catheter) is inserted through a small incision (of around 1 – 2 inches) at the groin into the artery. The tube is led through the artery to the heart, where it can be used to perform a number of treatments.


    An angiogram is one of the most basic catheterisation procedures for the heart. The structure of the heart vessels and arteries is usually not visible through x-ray. During an angiogram, the catheter is used to inject a special x-ray visible dye into the blood stream of the coronary artery. With the dye, the specialist is now able to take an x-ray of the heart structure to determine the existence and extent of blockages within the coronary arteries. With a better view of the affected area, the cardiology specialist will be able to determine if an angioplasty is necessary.

    Balloon Angioplasty

    An angioplasty is a catheterisation procedure to prevent blockages in the coronary artery from restricting blood flow. The most common form of angioplasty is balloon angioplasty, where a catheter with an attached balloon is inserted into the coronary artery. When the catheter arrives at the blockage in the artery, the balloon is inflated to widen the artery and compress the blockage. This restores proper blood flow within the coronary artery, allowing blood to reach the heart muscles.


    Sometimes, when there is significant blockage or concern that the artery will narrow again, a scaffold known as a stent is implanted in the coronary artery. Looking like a tubular wire mesh, the stent is expanded when the balloon is inflated. It then locks into place, preventing the artery walls from narrowing in the future. A stent implant procedure usually requires the patient to take blood thinner medication to prevent blood from clotting on the stent.

    Stent technology has improved in recent years. There are now bio-absorbable stents which dissolve after some time, leaving behind healthy coronary walls. There also special drug-eluting stents which release drugs that prevent the build-up of blockages. Find out how coronary artery disease can be detected.

  • How is Heart Arrhythmia Treated?

    Heart arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, is usually due to incorrect electrical pulses in the heart caused by structural damage or deformities in the heart. There are medications that can slow the heartbeat of patients who have abnormally fast heartbeat. Surgical treatment is also available for serious cases.

    Catheter ablation

    Catheter ablation is a common treatment procedure for arrhythmia, especially for cases with fast or erratic heartbeats. A small (1 – 2 inch) incision is made in the groin, and a special flexible tube (catheter) is inserted through the incision into a major artery. The tube then travels through the artery into the heart muscle. Here, electrodes on the tip of the catheter are activated, and heat, extreme cold or radiofrequency energy is used to burn a small spot of heart tissue to correct the electrical signals affecting the heartbeat.

    Pacemaker implant

    A pacemaker is a small machine implanted into the body to regulate the heartbeat. It can be used long-term to stimulate the heart for those experiencing slow heartbeat. It is usually implanted under the skin near the collarbone, and electrode wires run through the blood vessels into the heart. This allows the pacemaker to monitor the heartbeat and use electric pulses to regulate or increase the heartbeat when it detects that the heartbeat has become erratic or slow.

    Defibrillator implant


    If there is a risk of the patient developing sudden, dangerously fast or irregular heartbeat that can lead to sudden cardiac death, an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) can be implanted to prevent cardiac arrest. Placed under the skin near the collarbone, the device is similar to a pacemaker implant, with wires running through the blood vessels into the heart.

    Unlike a pacemaker implant, the defibrillator uses electric shocks to reset the heart when irregular heartbeat is detected. The ICD does not stop irregular heartbeat from happening, but treats it when it occurs. ICD implantation is one of the few treatments that can prevent sudden cardiac death. Find out how heart arrhythmia can be detected.

  • How is Heart Failure Treated?

    The term ‘heart failure’ may sound catastrophic, but it actually refers to an inability of the heart to function efficiently, and not a sudden, total failure in function. Medication can help control the condition and keep the heart functional, and there are surgical procedures that can help treat the condition.

    Coronary artery bypass graft


    In cases where heart failure is caused by coronary artery disease, and the condition is not treatable using angioplasty, a coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) can be performed. Commonly known as a heart bypass, CABG is an open-heart surgery where a vein is harvested from another part of the body, usually the leg, and grafted to the coronary artery to bypass the section where there is severe blockage. This allows blood to go around the blockage and flow smoothly to the heart.

    CABG is a major surgery that usually requires the heart to be stopped during the procedure. A special heart-lung machine is used to temporarily take over the function of the heart and lungs so that the cardiothoracic surgeon can perform the bypass surgery.

    Ventricular Assist Device

    A ventricular assist device (VAD) is an electromagnetic pump that can be used to partially or completely take over the pumping function of the heart. It can be used as a short-term treatment for patients recovering from heart attacks or heart surgery, as an intermediate bridge for patients waiting for heart transplants, or as a long-term solution for patients who have heart failure stemming from a severely weakened heart.

    Implantation of a VAD requires open-heart surgery. The cardiothoracic surgeon will attach the VAD pump to the patient’s heart to take over the pumping function. A tube connects the pump to a controller and battery pack located outside of the body. The controller allows the heart specialist to monitor and manage the VAD. Studies have shown that heart failure patients who receive a VAD implant have a survival rate 6 times higher than patients who receive only medication. Find out how heart failure can be detected.

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