In the past few decades, the medical industry has seen an explosion of innovation in minimally-invasive procedures, and the field of heart surgery most of all. Many heart procedures that used to be performed via open-heart surgery can now be performed in a minimally-invasive way via catheter, offering patients many benefits with far fewer risks than traditional open surgery. A catheter lab is now a standard facility in many German cardiology centers.
Premier Healthcare Germany has several of Germany’s top cardio clinics and interdisciplinary heart centers in its network where such procedures are considered standard and are performed on a daily basis. Experienced cardiologists work together with top surgeons to provide high-quality medical treatment to patients with a variety of heart conditions. Minimally-invasive techniques combined with highly qualified doctors and strict safety standards all contribute to making heart surgery in Germany a low-risk, highly effective procedure.
To find out more about minimally-invasive heart procedures in Germany, contact us via phone or our website.
Accessing the heart through the blood vessels
In catheter-assisted cardiac procedures, a heart specialist – usually a cardiologist – operates on the heart via a long, narrow tube threaded through the arteries or veins. Rather than opening up the chest, the cardiologist or surgeon inserts a catheter in another part of the body and threads it through a major blood vessel until it reaches the heart. The equipment to perform the procedure will be located at the tip of the catheter or threaded through it, and will vary depending on the type of procedure being performed.
The procedure usually takes place at a special catheter lab as an outpatient procedure. Cath labs are considered standard at many German cardiology clinics, and German heart specialists have extensive experience performing catheter-assisted cardiac procedures.
Some specialized departments have built innovative new heart facilities which combine a cardiac catheter lab with facilities for open-heart surgery, meaning all heart treatments can now be found in one place. These new heart facilities are known as hybrid operating rooms.
The catheter can be inserted via the groin, wrist or arm. The operating surgeon will decide on an insertion site based on the area of the heart which will be operated on. The patient is under a light anesthesia during the procedure.
The cardiologist uses a local anesthetic to numb the insertion site, then punctures the skin and guides the catheter into the blood vessel. They will inject a special dye to make the blood vessels show up better on X-ray, then guide the catheter through the vessel up into the coronary arteries or the heart.
Blood vessels are not sensitive to pain, so the patient should not be able to feel the catheter at all.
From here, the cardiologist can perform a number of heart procedures depending on what the patient is being treated for. There are many different types of cardiac catheters for different procedures.
For cardiac ablation, a device at the end of the catheter delivers extreme heat, cold or radiation to targeted areas of the heart to ablate the tissue.
In the MitraClip or TAVI procedure, the cardiologist uses a catheter to implant a device to replace or repair a faulty heart valve.
With angioplasty procedures, a catheter is used to re-open blocked arteries. This may involve inflating a medical balloon to break down plaque on the artery walls, implanting a stent to hold the arteries open, or using a tiny drill or similar device to cut away plaque.
Doctors can also patch a septal defect located between the chambers of the heart by operating via a catheter.
These are just a few of many heart procedures that can be performed via catheter. Most catheter-assisted cardiac procedures take several hours and require an overnight stay in the hospital.
Advantages of catheter-assisted heart surgery
Minimally-invasive surgery has many benefits as compared to traditional open surgery. For one, it is much gentler on the body, meaning that patients who are not good candidates for open heart surgery might still be able to receive treatment for their heart conditions. Elderly patients, people with co-morbidities and patients who have previously undergone heart surgery are all examples of patients who would not be typically considered for open heart surgery, but who might be able to benefit from a catheter-assisted cardiac procedure. In addition, all patients can benefit from less trauma to the body, none of the risks associated with general anesthesia, shorter recovery times, a lower risk of complications and less scarring.
Some patients with particularly severe heart conditions may still need open surgery to repair the diseased areas of the heart. A trained medical professional will make a recommendation based on a comprehensive analysis of the patient’s condition and medical history.
Even for patients who are not eligible for catheter-assisted surgery because their anatomy doesn’t allow it or because they cannot take blood thinners, there is still a possibility that they can benefit from minimally invasive surgery: New, non-catheter heart procedures are being developed in which surgeons access the heart through small incisions between the ribs, eliminating the need to open the chest – and German surgeons are leading the way.
Risks and complications
Cardiac catheterization is a safe, minimally-invasive heart procedure with very low rates of complications. When they do occur, however, complications may include bleeding, bruising or infection at the insertion site, blood vessel or nerve damage, or an allergic reaction to the dye being used. Even more rare are arrhythmias, blood clots, and an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
A doctor will inform the patient of the possible risks and ask the patient to sign a consent form before the procedure.
Premier Healthcare Germany has partnerships with several hospitals that offer catheter-assisted heart procedures in Germany, including two highly-specialized heart centers in Hamburg. Contact us to learn more about heart surgery in Germany.