Heart doctors now able to care for artery disease throughout the body

February 27, 2007
Many people are familiar with the technology cardiologists use to treat blocked arteries in the heart. For decades these doctors have used the wire, balloon and stent procedures called coronary angioplasty to clear the blockage and improve blood flow throughout the cardiovascular system.

Two cardiologists at New Hanover Regional Medical Center have now joined vascular surgeons and radiologists in using that same technology to clear blockages in other areas of the body. Dr. Lance Lewis and Dr. Andrew Bishop are board certified and specially trained to perform interventions that treat Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD).

“A lot of the same technologies have moved from the cardiac side of things to peripheral vascular care,” Dr. Lewis said. “We’re doing procedures that are not as invasive as the open surgeries, and we are able to do them using the same technologies we use in the heart.”

It’s estimated that between eight and 12 million Americans suffer from PAD, developing blockages in their legs, arms, groin, kidney, or even the brain. If blood flow is cut off, the end result could be the loss of vital organs, limbs or even a stroke. Vascular surgeons and radiologists often perform procedures to address these blockages.

Over the past five to 10 years, many programs have trained cardiologists to take care of patients with these vascular issues. The added benefit for patients is the cardiologist already treating them for heart disease can also treat problems in their peripheral vessels, eliminating the need to see another specialist for the procedure.

“If you look at a cardiology clinic, 40 percent of the patients have peripheral disease,” Dr. Bishop said. “The heart doctor is able to treat both problems, and can develop a systematic treatment plan that works best for the patient.”
Dr. Henry Patel, Chairman of NHRMC’s Cardiology Department, said continuity of care is a primary benefit.

“Cardiologists can follow these patients, continue to monitor their medical progress and modify the risk factors that predispose the illness,” he said.

Many people don’t recognize the signs or symptoms of PAD. While they will see a doctor for chest pain, they may not give much thought to pain in their back, groin or legs. As awareness grows, both doctors see the number of PAD cases growing, too.

“They may think its arthritis, or sciatica,” Dr. Bishop said. “We’re setting up systems to clinically recognize peripheral disease and put it in the package of treatment. It doesn’t always mean immediately doing a stent procedure. I only do interventions in about 10 percent of the people I wind up diagnosing with significant peripheral disease.”

Both doctors see their contributions improving patient care in the region, as they work with other specialists to treat cardiovascular disease.

“I think we’re going to diagnose vascular disease earlier than we have in the past,” Dr. Lewis said, “because we think about it more in our patients with heart disease.”

For more information or a referral to physicians who treat Peripheral Arterial Disease, please call VitaLine at 1-888-815.5188.