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What Is Percutaneous Coronary Intervention and How Does It Treat Heart Disease?

angioplasty procedure

South Denver Cardiology Associates is turning 50 this year. To honor this momentous occasion, we will periodically highlight some of the most important cardiology innovations of the last 50 years. In this post, we will review the percutaneous coronary intervention procedure, commonly called coronary artery stenting, and discuss how it has improved cardiac care over the last several decades. 

Percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) is a procedure performed to open blocked coronary arteries and restore normal blood flow to the heart muscle. It can be performed as a preventive procedure if your cardiologist believes you are having angina (cardiac chest pain) or either urgently or in an emergency to treat an active heart attack. PCI provides a minimally invasive solution that has allowed many individuals to avoid invasive open-heart surgery.  

During the procedure, a long, thin tube called a catheter is positioned at the beginning of the blood vessel, upstream from the blockage. Once the catheter is in place, wires, balloons, and stents can then be used to reach and treat the blockage, generally by pushing the plaque to the sides of the blood vessel wall, allowing the blood to flow freely again downstream. 

History of Percutaneous Coronary Intervention

The first percutaneous coronary intervention was an angioplasty (balloon only) procedure and was performed by Dr. Andreas Grüntzig in Zurich, Switzerland. This initial procedure utilized an expandable balloon created on the kitchen table in Grüntzig’s apartment with the help of his assistant, Maria Schlumpf. However, his work reflected the evolution of a process pioneered by several other medical professionals dating back nearly 20 years. 

In 1958, Dr. Mason Sones performed the first selective coronary angiogram. Several years later, Dr. Melvin Judkins refined this procedure by using catheters shaped in a way that allowed them to reach the coronary arteries more easily. Then in the 1960s, American interventional radiologist Dr. Charles Dotter pioneered the angioplasty procedure by inserting sequential catheters with increasing diameters to open a blocked artery.  

Dr. Grüntzig built on these efforts to perform the first successful balloon angioplasty procedure. He presented the results of his procedure at an American Heart Association meeting two months later and received widespread praise for his work. Grüntzig continued performing angioplasty procedures on patients in Zurich and began teaching the treatment to other cardiologists as it became introduced internationally. 

During the initial stages of its adoption, there were several complications associated with coronary angioplasty. This forced the technique to evolve, and coronary stents were eventually utilized to address these issues. The use of stents in percutaneous coronary intervention has now become the standard approach, given their improved durability and safety. 

Angioplasty Procedures at South Denver Cardiology Associates

angioplastyDr. Hugh Wiley was the first cardiologist at South Denver Cardiology Associates to perform the coronary angioplasty procedure. He was the third cardiologist to join the SDC team nearly 50 years ago. Dr. Wiley was a cutting-edge cardiologist and an early adopter of angioplasty in the 1980s. His work allowed South Denver Cardiology to become one of the first practices along the Front Range to perform this procedure, and it established SDC as a pioneer in minimally invasive cardiology treatments during the 1980s.   

Providing Comprehensive Cardiology Care for the Denver Metro Area

South Denver Cardiology Associates provides a wide range of cardiac services to help you maintain optimal heart health. Over the last 50 years, we have developed a reputation as one of the leading cardiology practices in Colorado. Our full-time cardiologists are all board-certified, and many have contributed to the development of innovative procedures which have then been adopted as standard practice. Our heart doctors also participate in a wide range of clinical research programs allowing our patients access to the newest and most innovative treatments and devices available. 

Whether you need diagnostic testing, preventive care, interventional cardiology treatments, or simply want help making lifestyle adjustments to improve your heart health, the team at South Denver Cardiology Associates can deliver the care you need. 

Contact us today to schedule a consultation. 


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As with any health concerns, your specific treatment program should be discussed thoroughly with your primary care physician as well as any specialists who may need to be consulted – like a cardiologist.

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