Wrist Catheterization: Heart Catheterization Through the Radial Artery

Currently about 10% of people in the US have catheterization done using the wrist as opposed to over 70% in other parts of the world. Dr. Wilson has performed over 500 such procedures and uses the wrist 90% of the time, including for angioplasty and stent placement.

What is Heart Catheterization?

Almost 1/3 of people in the US will encounter some form of heart or artery disease in their lives. Heart attack and limiting chest discomfort are often due to disease of the arteries that feed the heart. In order to diagnose and treat these problems, heart catheterization, which includes taking pictures of the arteries, is often necessary. A catheter is simply a long tube that may be manipulated to points inside of the body without a full, open surgical procedure. In many instances, the location of the coronary artery that is the source of limitation or discomfort can be identified and corrected through a catheter. Heart catheterization is performed on thousands of people every day.

Why the wrist?

Catheters that will be steered to the heart traditionally entered the body through the artery in the groin. The catheters were large and the groin artery (femoral) is large enough to accommodate them. Catheters and tools used to correct some artery problems are smaller today. As a result, the artery in the wrist (radial) may be used instead of the groin. 

  • The chance of bleeding is lower with the wrist compared to the groin. 
  • The wrist is easy to examine and does not require any period of bedrest after the procedure. 
  • Most people find the wrist procedure more comfortable. 

Can Everyone Have Radial Artery Catheterization?

About 5% of people have anatomy that prevents catheterization through the wrist. The radial artery of 1-2% of people makes twists and turns that won't allow a catheter. However, the most common limitation remains the size of catheters. In some of us, the radial artery is just too small to accommodate even the smallest catheters. In addition, there must be good blood supply to the hand through both of the radial and ulnar arteries of the wrist. Prior to wrist catheterization, the blood supply to the hand is examined closely and the radial artery is measured using ultrasound. If you would like to learn more about radial cardiac catheterization for yourself, please contact us.