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Innovations in Medicine: Minimally Invasive Treatments for Aneurysms

Innovations in Medicine, a television program produced by PBS, recently interviewed Ali Azizzadeh, MD, director of Vascular Surgery at the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai, about an innovative, minimally invasive procedure to treat aneurysms before they become critical.

Aneurysms are weakening, or bulging, of blood vessels that can rupture and become life-threatening. As Azizzadeh tells Innovations in Medicine, blood vessels are conduits that transfer blood from the heart to various parts of the body and when these vessels become week, an aneurysm can form.

Though aneurysms can happen anywhere in the body, they most commonly happen in the brain, or in the main vessels that lead to the heart, legs and arms.

According to Azizzadeh, risk factors for aneurysms include heredity, smoking, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol.

“We try to modify those risk factors for patients who are prone to aneurysm formations or who already have an existing aneurysm,” Azizzadeh told Innovations in Medicine.

Screening high-risk patients is critical to detecting aneurysms before they become deadly.

Both MRI and CT scans are most commonly used to detect the condition and Azizzadeh says that Medicare has a free screening program for any person over 65 who has ever smoked. And while some aneurysms can cause pain, “most present no symptoms, making them a silent killer.” If someone has unexplained pain, coupled with any risk factors, Azizzadeh recommends talking to their doctor and mentioning aneurysms.

If detected, there are interventions – including minimally-invasive catheter-based procedures – to treat the condition.

“In the old days, we used to have to open a patient and fix the blood vessels by hand, replacing it with a fabric graph,” said Azizzadeh. “Today, we can fix the problem from the inside, without ever opening up the patient.”

This endovascular procedure has a proven success rate and Azizzadeh says now, if detected early, patients have a less than 2 percent chance of dying from an aneurysm with this minimally invasive technique.

Click here to watch the Innovations in Medicine segment on PBS.