Archive for the ‘cath lab tips and tricks’ Category

Conquering  left main disease is considered as crowning glory for the Interventional cardiologists. For over three decades , CABG has remained the undisputed modality which is being challenged  today. Fortunately, the Incidence of true isolated  left main disease is  low .(If Medina bifurcation subset is excluded)


left main

With growing expertise , advanced hardware and Imaging ( like a 360 degree OCT fly through view ) one can virtually sit inside the left main and complete a PCI .

Still , coronary care is much . . . much  . . . more than a technology in transit !

Most importantly, these complex PCIs require rigorous maintenance protocol  with meticulous platelet knockout drugs , patient compliance and the genetic fate of drug efficacy . (Clopidogrel has since entered the final laps of inefficiency while Ticagrelor has some more time I guess !)

What is the current thinking  about  unprotected left main PCI ? Let us know it from real life experts !

For those answered , yes to  the above question please leave this page , as the following question might  trouble you much !

While competent surgeons are waiting to tackle left main by surgical means ,there are many centers which are Inclined towards  PCI though we lack long-term outcome (At least 10 years like CABG )

Why do you think this is happening ? Are you ready for another crooked poll ?!  

What exactly is left main disease ?

Some of  us also suffer from a knowledge gap and tend to think  Bifurcation lesions  and left main disease are two distinct entities .The fact of the matter is , significant subset of bifurcation lesions are Indeed either left main equivalents or true left mains ( Medina 1,1,1 would constitute > 50 % all  bifurc lesions )  If you include Invisible left main lesions in Medina ( 0,1,1 or 0,0,1 ) detected by IVUS/OCT  it might reach easily cross 90% (Scientific guess !)  Does that mean we have to think CABG even for all complex bifurcation lesions ? and reserve left main disease for isolated discrete mid shaft or ostial left main ?

Final message 

My observation (Sincere to my limited conscience !) at least in this part of the world is : Left main Interventions are  “perceived as pride” and its more related to “show of expertise” and is little to do with patient outcome.Unfortunately , cardiologists should not be blamed for it in isolation as the studies they follow are conflicted.

Forget SYNTAX/PRECOMBAT trials, the two famous studies EXCEL (Favor PCI) and NOBLE were published in 2016 made our life tough .One suggested PCI is acceptable /on par with CABG, while the  other one put CABG superior , ensuring clarity  replaced with confusion ! When we have a dispute , logic would suggest we should fall back on the status quo ie “CABG is superior” unless proved convincingly. Many sections of cardiology society failed to appreciate this.

Post PCI thoughts

*It may not be that hard to do a complex PCI . But, it’s never easier to understand current cardiology literature that is supposed to raise our intellect , which has a direct relevance to patient welfare. Note, many crucial , high stake studies  tend to play academic deceit games  with  linguistic and statistical hyperboles like Non Inferior , likely superiority , Never inferior , near equipoise , regression of hazards, virtual follow-up in  real vs trial world etc , etc !

I can only hope for a better scientific world !


  1. Which is the best option for left main disease PCI or CABG ?  Journal of Individual wisdom and evidence based conscience : Volume 1 Chapter 1- Coronary Intellect : Pages 0 to ∞ Jan 2018.

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We know, The Mysterious Alibaba cave opens  with a voice password . . . legend  tell us it had unlimited hidden treasures. It would appear , CTOs mimic the cave in several ways. What is inside ? Should we open it ?  Can we come out safely ? Do we have any magical password in cath lab to get across the complex tissue boulders ?,   every cardiologist would love to have one !

chronic total occlusion alibaba cave corsair fileder xt pronova guideliner micro catheter asahi cart reverese cart cross boss sting ray

Dear CTO,Open Sesame . . . I have come with all the wires you love !  Please let me in !


“CTOs are never an emergency  . . .but please realise  we can very easily create one  while resuscitating a dead snake  ! 

Don’t think hard on evidence , then , you may not do a single case of CTO in your life .Forget all those pessimistic trials like OAT,COAT, etc and the recent ones DECISION-CTO. Ignore all guidelines. Ask your patient, and his insurance company , if they are willing , reserve the cath lab and get ready.

Pre-procedure  planning

Spend at least a hour to analyse the CTO Imagery one day prior and create n action plan.

Keep knowledgeable staff for assisting , but never ask for fellow colleagues help because it hurts our ego !  Cardiac surgeon’s back up is a welcome addition even if it’s on paper.

If possible , try to ask the patient genuinely ,what is his symptom at least once !  before starting the procedure. 

Timing of the procedure.

Don’t post a CTO patient  either on a busy Monday morning  or lazy Friday afternoon.

Hardware Inventory

The wires ,catheters, the balloons form the essential tool box .There is more than a  handful of coronary automobile companies manufacture this .It is all about metallurgy , knowledge of wires, catheters , and tip thickness, (Bullet shaped as in Asahi ) , slipping , hydrophophic or philic,  polymer coating , trackability, pushability , memory etc etc.

Guide wire tip morphology is as Important as the  Lesion characteristics !

Analysis of the lesion (Probably most important)

Unlike conventional PCI we have no initial target.We need to poke first and find the target next ! Distal vessel status  is most important ( Careful review of retrograde filling  through collaterals could give more information than CT angiograms .Calcification, diffuse disease can be a real hurdle)

Lesion morphology

Softness of lesion has to be felt (Requires good wire which has sensor (Paccinian corpuscles and Merckle disc ideal ?) I guess the cortical tactile feel is as vital as the  intervention expertise .I know at least one diabetic colleague of mine who finds it difficult  to cross a CTO  and admits he never found it easy to feel  the lesion through the wires . Autonomic dysfunction ?)

Operator  expertise

(Note: These are like reading  swimming guidelines , you can’t learn in the shores reading books ! you have to plunge !)

Many techniques are proposed .Sequential approach (Ironically experts are licensed to use  specialized wired wires directly .Beginners  are advised to go with non specialized hardware and escalate step by step) Some centers are blessed with new age weapons like cross Boss and sting ray that confront the lesions in multiple frontiers. (Carpet bombing?)

CTO playground. : Its essentially a coronary contact sport with expert septal surfing , tunnelling, knuckling , kneeling , bending . Of course , It  can end up in a gratifying win in few , still most of us tend to play this game without a goal (post !)

They are basically about poking the head of the lesion and trying to cross an occluded vessel  millimeter  by mm towards the presumed distal vessel in an Imaginary trajectory. Proximal cap, central core ,the blind tunnel , distal capsule and exit points each must be successfully conquered.

CTO crossing is  the ultimate capacity of the operator to realise and feel the position of the wires in true lumen and their confidence levels in their conviction!

Multiple wires up to three are used some times to poke the lesion two of them are used to shut the false tracks and the other one is expected to enter the true lumen (Looks too good on theory !) . These are referred to in as many terms like parallel wire see-saw , CART ,Reverse CART etc .Retrograde techniques do help us but has no magic solutions.The lumen contrast , guide wire tip movement and its  side branch entry  would help.

Tacking complication :Always anticipate , it’s not negative mind set to look for it  !

Keep pericardiocentesis kit , covered stents , micro  snares and other retrieval devices ready in cart. Your support staff should be well versed with what is happening around them. Some of  the dye leaks and stains are safe .They imply minor perforations that form  sealed hematomas  (The plane of perforations also matters. myocardial (ab-pericardial ) leaks are well tolerated .Distal perforations are also safe as long as CTO is not opened ) Online echocardiography should be readily available to monitor  pericardial space leak.

When bleed into pericardial space is life threatening , A comical, but life saving option is to close the artery and restore the CTO  its original state and come out of the lab quietly ! 

Newer Imaging guidance : Can be useful , still may not matter much  when considering the interventional acumen .

CTO PCI : Time as therapeutic end point.

CTO is not an endless game with out time frame .In my opinion it shouldn’t cross 45 minutes each as in a  soccer  game with a brief  strategic time out and of course with liberal use of ,yellow and red cards

Future directions

Japanese are the ones who pioneered  CTO Interventions . We expect more Innovations ! Is it the forward looking IVUS ? It is akin to tunneling for underground metro train with GPS guiding .If you can mark the proximal and distal  points , rest will be be taken care by mortised self tunneling catheters from Robotic arms steered by sophisticated algorithms.

Final  message

CTO PCI remains a real Interventional challenge. We are often double blinded  in both directions (antegrade as well as retrograde ). Needs much effort ,time, hardware and most importantly a non fatigued mind and body. The benefits we get may vary  between  gratifying to outright mediocre .Of course , it surely satisfies operator ego and express pride and courage !

Is crossing and stenting  a CTO  synonymous with true success ?

Yes it is , for the cardiologist and  the hospital  . . . I’m not sure about it for the patient !

In this  sense , CTOs  mimic the mysterious Alibaba cave that tempts us with Imaginary treasures but can trap us with a wrong password !


* Who should CTO PCI  ?

I have seen  young , enthusiastic cardiologists with Immature support staff attempting CTO in remote sub- urban settings ! Though patience and expertise are essential ingredients, some amount of organised training and hardwares make CTO PCI safe and effective. Enthusiasm and affordability alone can’t be an Indication for this complex set of coronary lesions.



I still wonder why  this vital paper was never published , it was just presented in the Annual ACC conference March 2017



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Improper or technically deficient stent deployment is a major factor for post stent events .Few terminologies are used in assessing stent deployment.

Under expanded stent (UES) 

A stent is not fully  expanded to the desired or to its specified diameter.

This is often due to inadequate balloon pressure during inflation .

Many times its technical and It requires post dilatation.

Under-deployed stent is  often  due to a struts hitting a  hard surface or calcium .

What is mal-apposed stent  ? (MPS)

It’s a fine gap between the vessel wall and the stent.

It can be observed immediate or late. Immediate is usually due undersizing of stent.

Intermediate or late malapposition  can be due to many  reasons

  1. Due to dissolution of thrombus in the  vessel stent interface
  2. Positive vessel remodelling creating new gap between vessel wall  and stent remodeling
  3. Vessel wall regaining vasomotion and  ? ( Is it the culprit with bio vascular scaffold)
  4. Stent rejection hypersensitivity and inflammatory reaction is a rare possibility.

What is the acceptable mal-apposition ?

No stent deployment is perfect . Mal-apposition can be focal confined to one or two struts or can be diffuse . (Branch vessel are naturally malapposed)Doing a routine OCT /IVUS is inviting trouble as no cardiologist can sleep in  comfort even after a reasonably good procedure.So we have created a safe  dead space with a width of 200 micron as an acceptable mal-apposition  (As if , the 7 micron RBCs and 2 micron  platelets can’t  get trapped in this dead space)

Is routine post-dilatation the  answer for all  mal-appostion?

Not really , still It is most logical step. Liberal post-dilatation  can be a problem as it may increase plaque prolapse and may re-release or dislodge  the  thrombus trapped during the initial expansion and triggering a no- reflow.

Undersizing vs underexpanded stent

Selecting a smaller stent for a given vessel diameter is another common error that result in MPS. This again can be tackled(Though not ideal)  by high pressure inflations.



Is self expanding stent best option for preventing mal-apposition ?

May be.It has more radial strength, and it is expected to take care of the current and possible  future gaps of created by positive remodeling.

Other stent related issues 

  • Plaque prolapse
  • Stent edge dissection
  • Longitudinal miss
  • Stent fatigue and fracture

Final message 

UES and MPS , though discussed separately by cardiologists , from the patient point of view , the difference is  camouflaged in technical semantics since both carry risk significant risk of recurrent ACS or restenosis .It has become fashionable to believe one needs to  be worried more about visible UES than invisible MPS.


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Bifurcation  angioplasty is a  newly conquered(Or not yet !)  target  for Interventional cardiologists.We have come a long way  in planning  interventions  for left main  with state of the art  hardware, expertise and  image assistance .However , every  classification , approach, strategy  for BFL talks about tackling the main and  side branches meticulously.

Still . . . one question  is not answered clearly is  . . .

A mini MCQ.

Answer: Open for contribution.

My inference

*It all depends upon the Indication and Individual arterial ischemic burden. In ACS, if  LAD territory is infarcted and beyond 24 hours.LAD becomes a  side kick to the vital LCX which supplies  the remaining life sustaining myocardium which includes the critical basal segments.

Final message 

Since , the risks involved in the interventions of  left main and its bifurcation is inherently linked  with , what exactly we mean (and do ! ) to the side branch .Its mandatory we spare few intellectual moments before our hands invade the coronary battle zone.

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There is something to understand in the movement of dissection flaps with reference to incoming coronary blood flow.Why some dissections dangerously escalate and totally occlude within moments while some others seal spontaneously ? Though uncommon ,  retrograde dissections has some unique hemo–anatomical property .

dissection flaps antegrade vs retrograde




benign dissection no flow limiting self sealing

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Cardiologists do magic inside the human coronary artery , that too in a  live beating heart , unlike the surgeons.Blocks are removed , holes are closed, valves are inserted ,  scars are burnt, new electrical connections  are laid .They do this with relative blind vision with good degree of success. Still, as we aim for more precise interventions we require excellent imaging  modalities to assist us.

In  PCI of CTO(Chronic total occlusion)   the critical element to know  is  the morphology of the  tissue plane , what  exactly  we burrow ?  as we navigate  through complex, often hard shapeless tortuous tissue tunnels  . Our patients will be  surprised to know we are currently doing this with our eyes shut. If only we have a camera guide in the tip of the wire it give us tremendous advantage .

CTO pathology

The CTO morphology .Image source : Kenichi Sakakura ,Eur Heart J. 2014 Jul 1;35(25):1683-93.

The exiting IVUS technology can only look sideways . Now a new vision is added by annular array of transducer at tip with CMOS sensor .The technology is just coming out it would be  use for us in the near future .

Anatomy of the forward looking ultrasonic eye

ivus forward loooking cto intervention


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A patient with near 90% LAD disease who had a significant TMT/EST positivity with no clinical angina  was  subjected to FFR by a scientific  cardiac physician. Since FFR was recorded as  .9 , he was adviced against a stent and sent home with drugs.

Now , in the  physiological assessment of a coronary lesion ,  which one you are going to trust , TMT positivity or FFR ?

FFR  measures trans-lesional pressure drop  by creating a artificial exercise physiology  in a particular coronary bed by injecting just one of coronary vasodilators  namely Adenosine. FFR assessment can never be considered truely  physiological .There has been huge discrepancy in the amount , rate and route of administration and the hyperemic response to Adenosine.

Final message

In a single vessel disease population , if TMT is positive the lesion is to be taken as significant, irrespective of FFR.(Provided Anemia and other systemic factors are excluded )

*Read this and get ready to get  confused further , single vessel disease with TMT positivity  doesn’t mean medical management is never an option .OMT ,(optimal medical therapy ) even though a battered concept is not yet dead for SVD !



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