How Can a Balloon Save a Life in a Heart Attack?

You’ve likely heard that “time is money.” Well, in health care, there are occasions when “time is life.” One such case is when a person has a heart attack.

A heart attack happens when one of the coronary arteries is suddenly blocked by a blood clot. These are the arteries that supply blood to your heart muscle. Your heart needs the blood flow to keep working.

If you have a blockage in your coronary artery causing a heart attack, it needs to be opened within minutes. The more time that passes before treatment, the more of the heart tissue dies. As you might guess, once too much heart tissue dies, so can you.

Angioplasty Can Save Lives

In most of the patients suffering a heart attack, treatment involves a procedure called called percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI).

Percutaneous Coronary intervention is a nonsurgical procedure that restores blood flow to your heart. During this procedure, doctors insert a small plastic tube (cathter) in one of your blood vessels – usually in the arm or groin. Through that catheter they’ll guide a small wire and a balloon to the location of the blockage in the coronary artery. The doctors then inflate the small balloon to push the blockage aside and reopen the artery.

As we mentioned, time is life. The more time that passes from the time the heart attack victim arrives at the hospital, to the time when the balloon reopens the artery and restores blood flow, the more damage can occur to the heart.

Door-to-Balloon Time — Improving Processes

At heart-care facilities across the nation, including Aurora Health Care medical centers, teams are working to develop ways to treat heart attack patients more quickly. Specifically, we’re reducing the time from when a heart attack victim arrives at the hospital to the time when we’re able to clear the coronary artery blockage using the balloon.

In the medical field, we refer to this as the “door-to-balloon time” — or D2B.

Across the Aurora Health Care system, we’ve had great results in efforts to reduce our D2B times. Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee recently tracked its monthly average D2B time at 36 minutes. One patient received his life-saving balloon angioplasty procedure in just 20 minutes. To put that in perspective, in 2015, the national average for door-to-balloon time was 57 minutes. Aurora St. Luke’s average time was just 43 minutes at that time.

The time we track includes patient intake in the emergency department, preparing the patient and the medical team for the angioplasty, and actually opening the coronary artery blockage.

If you have questions about your heart health, see your health care professional or a heart specialist.

Meet the Author

Suhail Allaqaband, MD, is an internationally renowned interventional cardiologist and Director of Cardiovascular Interventions at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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