New procedure safely clears calcium blockages in heart with sonic waves

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Doctors have been using shockwave technology for years, often to destroy painful kidney stones.

Now, it’s being used to clear stubborn calcium blockages in the heart before a stent is placed in the artery.

Virtua Health interventional cardiologist Dr. John Finley said the most common method to clear blockages has been to scrape or crack the hard calcium with a tool. The recently FDA-approved Shockwave Intravascular Lithotripsy (IVL) does so without creating such trauma.

“This, rather than create direct trauma to the vessel, allows sonic waves and energy to penetrate the calcium at all levels not only at the surface but deeper into the vessel without creating the disruption and trauma and negative consequences of the vessel, in terms of perforation, dissection or tear,” he explained.

According to Shockwave Medical, 1 million patients undergo a stent procedure each year, and 30% result in the buildup of calcium, which increases the risk of complications. The more severe the buildup, the greater the likelihood of stent under-expansion, which can cause more adverse effects.

However, the IVL procedure uses a special balloon that emits an electrical charge to break up the calcium in the artery without digging or scraping, which could otherwise cause possible damage.

It won’t be used for every patient, but it does give physicians one more tool to break up the blockage, especially for patients whose arteries have several twists and turns.

“For patients that have predominantly calcium lesions at the site of interest, these are the type of patients that would warrant this type of treatment,” Finley said. “Patients who are predisposed to calcium — dialysis patients, patients in their 70s, 80s and 90s. As more calcium deposits build up, this will allow manipulation of the vessel in a positive way without potential negative consequences.”

According to the FDA, more than 90% of patients in the IVL clinical trial were able to receive a stent and survive without a heart attack or another procedure for 30 days. After a year, about 75% of patients had not suffered a heart attack or had an additional procedure.