Relief for patients with difficult heart blockages

Chronic total occlusion therapy offers patients a minimally invasive treatment for "coronary road blocks" 


Watch George's story and learn more about CTO care.

Your heart, like any muscle in your body, requires sufficient blood flow to supply oxygen and nutrients that allow it to function. Blockages can develop in any of your three major heart arteries (coronary arteries). These can lead to heart attacks, if they occur suddenly, or to chest discomfort, if they occur more gradually.

Blockages are usually due to a build-up of fat and calcium (atherosclerosis) that narrows the arteries. This condition is the number one killer of men and women in developed countries.

Severe Blockage Symptoms

  • Arteries of the heart illustration chest pain
  • arm pain
  • jaw pain
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • indigestion
  • shortness of breath that usually worsens with activity

Risk Factors for Coronary Artery Disease

  • smoking
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • diabetes
  • being overweight
  • a strong family history of heart disease

New Treatments for CTO

About 15 percent of patients with coronary artery blockages have an artery that is 100 percent blocked. These blockages have usually been present for months to years and are known as chronic total occlusions (CTO).

The nature of these blockages and the challenges of treating them are highly complex. Historically, cardiologists had few minimally invasive treatment options to offer. As a result, patients were often advised to have open heart surgery or be treated with medications alone. This frequently happens even today, leaving some patients with a severely decreased quality of life.

Blocked Artery In recent years, advances in interventional cardiology have resulted in new minimally invasive treatments to open complex coronary blockages, including CTOs. A small number of interventional cardiologists — about one percent of those practicing in the U.S. — have the skills to perform these procedures.

Among these few are members of a team led by interventional cardiologist Dr. Robert W. Yeh at the CardioVascular Institute at BIDMC. The team specializes in evaluating your condition and in using sophisticated new procedures to open your complex blockages.