For many patients, angioplasty is a life-saving procedure that reopens blocked arteries, halting heart attack and stroke. During angioplasty, an interventional cardiologist - a heart doctor who has special training in procedures performed with a thin tube called a catheter - inserts the catheter in the blocked artery. The tip of the catheter is then guided to the blocked artery, and a tiny balloon at the end of the catheter opens and closes to push aside the fatty material called plaque that is causing the blockage.
During angioplasty procedures, bits of plaque and blood clot can break loose, flow downstream and lodge in tiny vessels that supply oxygen to heart muscle, blocking blood flow and potentially increasing damage to the heart and risk of death.
To prevent this dangerous “debris” from escaping and lodging in other vessels, researchers have developed catheters that are able to either suck or filter out (aspirate) the bits.
A recent study called the TAPAS trial found that, a year after their procedures, heart attack patients treated with an aspiration catheter during angioplasty were more likely to have survived - and to have avoided a second heart attack than patients treated by conventional techniques.