Cardiovascular care covers a number of conditions affecting the heart and the circulatory system. These include cardiovascular disease (CVD), Coronary Artery Disease and stroke. There are also conditions which cause the heart to beat faster or slower than normal, known respectively as tachycardia and bradycardia, as well as conditions such as atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter, where the heartbeat can be irregular or unpredictable. Medical technologies such as pacemakers and Implantable Cardiac Defibrillators (ICD) are innovative devices capable of monitoring heart rhythms and taking appropriate actions to terminate a sudden abnormal rhythm and return the heartbeat to normal. These devices can be compared to the airbags in a car: they may only be needed except in the case of an accident, but in those circumstances they are potentially lifesaving. Pacemakers and ICDs are now virtually equivalent to implantable mini-computers, despite only being around the size of a €2 coin. These life-saving technologies can also retain data of the patient heartbeat patterns, may be controlled by radio frequency through the use of telemedicine or telemonitoring solutions, and they can even adjust the beat rate according to the individual’s activity level.
Coronary artery disease is the most common cause of death in the world. It happens when the arteries which supply the heart become narrowed with fatty deposits on the inside wall. This narrowing reduces the flow of blood to the heart and can make it easier for a blood clot to block the artery. When one of the blood vessels becomes completely blocked, the blood supply to part of the heart stops and the heart muscle is damaged. This is known as a heart attack or a myocardial infarction (MI). If the blood supply to a large part of the heart is stopped, it may cause death.
Thanks to advances in medical technology, conditions such as coronary artery disease and stroke can be treated, preventing many premature deaths. The point where the artery is narrowed can be bypassed, by grafting a blood vessel from another site in the body, allowing the blood flow to take the new, unobstructed route. This is known as ‘Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting’ (CABG).
Alternatively, the blockage can be reopened using a so-called ‘balloon catheter’. This device is inserted into the narrowed section and then expanded to widen the artery again. It is also possible to leave a small tube or ‘stent’ in place to hold the artery open. Indeed, some modern stents can now be used to release a drug locally to prevent further complications. Using the catheter-based approach is less invasive than CABG, meaning shorter hospital stays and reduced costs, but each method has a role to play. Indeed, medical technology companies continue to innovate to develop and refine both techniques.