Technology may have created a major dependency on our smart devices but it’s also changed the way we detect and treat various illnesses.
One of the most amazing breakthroughs in medicine over the past 50 years has been the development of imaging modalities that can give us three-dimensional pictures of the inside of our body, not only stationary but also dynamically. This allows doctors to learn what the problem is without ever having to make a cut or opening to look in directly.
In the case of cardiovascular disease – the most common killer in North America – blood vessel blockages can be found and treated under radiological visualization without the need for surgery. This has saved lives and prevented permanent damage from stroke, kidney failure and limb ischemia (when an extremity is deprived of blood and nutrient supply).
We are now able to look inside blood vessels, find where they are blocked and open them.
Angiography, for example, is the use of X-ray technology to see the flow of blood through a blood vessel. Coronary angiography allows doctors to see the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart. If a blockage is found, it can be opened by balloon dilatation and kept open with a stent, known as angioplasty, a heart- and life-saving procedure.
This visualization is not just for the heart. Angiography of the brain uses the same technology to find where blood supply is being blocked. Then either clot-busting medication can be administered, an angioplasty can be performed or the clot can be removed, opening the passage and restoring function to the imperiled brain tissue. The same technique can be used to open up blocked vessels supplying the limbs and the kidneys. This will save the limb or the kidney, respectively, from permanent damage and dysfunction.
Dr. Zachary Levine is an assistant professor in the faculty of medicine at McGill University Health Centre and medical correspondent for AM740 (a ZoomerMedia property).
A version of this article appeared in the September 2017 issue with the headline, “Along That Vein,” p. 28.