Posts Tagged ‘coronary artery’

Imaging  coroanry artery is  generally  in the   domain of interventional cardiologists. MDCT has helped us to change that.

The  humble echocardiography can   identify the origin* of   coronary arteries   in  most   persons. The resolution power of modern day echocardiography is  2mm and the left main  ostium is >3.5mm in 99%  of population . If some body says one can’t  visualise the coronary artery by echo ,   it can only reflect their ignorance or lack of patience to get an optimal image. Of course technological limitations are there.

*  To be emphasised again , only the origin can be identified.

Can we identify ostial leftmain or proximal  left main disease  by echocardiography ?

It should be possible in  few .

Can we place  a doppler sample volume  within  the left main and measure coronary flow velocity ?

When obsterticians are able to  assess the  uterine artery flow  in a bulky uterus ,  it should be possible to do the same in  a coronary artery . Motion artifacts is the issue in the heart.  Micro sample voulme (<1mm) are expected in the future  that will make a non invasive coronary flow assesment a distinct possibility.

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Myocardial infarction (STEMI)  occurs in two distinct arterial  territories .The anterior LAD circulation and postero- inferior RCA/LCX circulation.The incidence is equally shared.

There has been some  learned and unlearned perceptions about Inferior MI.

Inferior MI is less dangerous than anterior MI.  True or false ?

Answer: Essentially true in most situations.


Inferior wall of the heart (strictly speaking there is no walls for heart , only surfaces , which blends with adjacent areas)  inferior wall  is formed by diaphragmatic surface and posterior surface.Inferior MI can occur by either RCA or LCX obstruction.The outcome of inferior MI is determined by mainly by  the extent  of   LV myocardial   damage it inflicts.To  quantitate this  we need to know , how much of LV is supplied by RCA , or LCX or combination of both ? This depend on the coronary dominance .It is estimated , the bulk of the LV is supplied ( up to 75%  ) by LCA. This becomes further high in left dominant circulations . In fact , it is believed LV can never get involved in non dominant RCA occlusions. This has brought in a new terminology  called “Small inferior MI”.Inferior STEMI due to PDA  occlusion or in a co -dominant circulation is not yet studied

Apart from the above  anatomical considerations the following clinical observations  have  been made regarding inferior MI.

  • When thrombolysis was introduced , many studies  suggested the the ST elevation in inferior  leads toched the isolectric levels  in most situations even without thrombolysis.Technically, this implies spontaneous , successful thrombolysis are more common in RCA. Among the thrombolysed ,persistent ST elvation is a rare phenomenon.
  • The well known difference in the conduction defect between anterior and inferior MI  is an important contibutor for better outcome in the later.(AV blocks in inferior MI , are often transient, non progressive, supra hisian location rarely require permanent pacemakers)
  • During acute phase cardiogenic shock occurs in a minority (That too , only if RV shock is included )
  • Even in the follow up the ejection fraction in inferior MI is  almost always above  40%. In many EF is not affected at all.
  • Progressive adverse remodelling of LV is rare

When can Inferior MI be dangerous ?

Anatomical factors

Inspite of the  above  factors  inferior MI can not be taken lightly . Especially when it  extend into posterior, lateral , (Rarely anterior) segments.

While  posterior extension  is often  tolerated , lateral extension is very poorly tolerated .This is probably explained as  the extension involves the vital free wall of LV and the laplace forces could precipitate LVF. Free wall rupture is also common in this situation.

Posterior extension , predominantly involves the surface of RV which is less important hemodynamically. Of course incidence of MR  due to it’s effect on posterior mitral leaflet can be trouble some.

inferior MI ECG

High risk clinical catagories.

Out of hospital STEMI  are at  equal  risk irrespective of the territories involved  .This is because,  primary VF does not differentiate , whether  ischemia comes from RCA or LAD .

  1. In elderly , dibetics and co existing medical condtions  the the established  benign   character  of  inferior MI disappear, as  any  muscle loss  in LV has equally adverse outcome.
  2. Even though  inferior MIs are immune  to cardiogenic shock  , a equally worrisome  prolonged hypotension due to high vagal tone, bradycardia, plus or minus RVMI can create trouble. Fortunately , they respond better to  treatment. Except a few with extensive transmural RVMI outcome is good.
  3. Presence of  mechanical complications of  ventricular septal rupture , ischemic MR can bring  the mortality on par with large anterior MI.

How different is the clinical outcome of infero-posterior  MI with reference  to the  site of  coronary arterial  obstruction   ?

The sequence of  outcome  From  best to worse  : Non dominant RCA* → Dominant RCA but distal to RV branch → LCX dominant with large OMs

* It is believed   an  acute proximal  obstruction of a  non dominant RCA may not be mechanically significant, but can be electrically significant as it retains the risk of primary VF and SA nodal ischemia. The ECG changes  can be very minimal or  some times simple bradycardia is the only clue. One should be able to recognise this entity (Non dominant  RCA STEMI)  as the outcome is  excellent and these patients  would never require procedure like primary  PCI

** A inferior MI due to a dominant LCX and a large OMs have comparable outcome as that of extensive anterior MI. The ECG will reveal ST elevation in both inferior and lateral leads.

***In patients with prior CAD  and collateral dependent  multivessel disease  the  inferior anterior sub classification does not make much sense as  entire coronary circulation can be mutually interdependent.

Final message

Inferior STEMI  generally lacks the vigor  to cause extensive damage to myocardium in most situations .Further they respond better to treatment. Risk stratification of STEMI based on the location of MI has not been popular among mainstream cardiologists. This issue needs some introspection as  the costly and complex treatment modalities like primary PCI  is unwarranted in most of the low risk inferior MIs.

Related posts in my blog:

1.Why thrombolysis is more effective in RCA?

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Total coronary artery occlusion is a common finding in CAD  especially in chronic stable angina. Normal coronary blood flow is 5 % of cardiac output  that amounts to 250-300ml/mt.At an average  heart rate of  70/mt  , each  beat  injects  about 5cc blood into the coronary circulation.This is shared between two coronary arteries.  This means , only few CC (2-3cc) of blood enters  each coronary artery with each cardiac cycle .

When one of coronary artery is totally occluded what happens to the coronary

blood flow ?

A.Total coronary blood flow  can be be  maintained   normal  at rest  as it  forms  only about 5% of cardiac output  (or it is only  slightly reduced )

B. It is believed , the unobstructed coronary artery  could receive the blood meant for the contralateral coronary artery. This  possibly explains the increased coronary artery diameter in the non obstructed artery.

C. It’s nature’s wish ,  that the  contralateral  coronary artery  shall share  50% of  it’s  blood through  collaterals if available.

D.If collaterals are not formed it , the unobstructed coronary  artery  may be over perfused with double the amount  of blood flow.

E. Some times , the collaterals steal  much more than what  the  obstructed coronary artery  deserves and make the feeding coronary artery ischemic. This is many times observed in  total RCA occlusion with well formed  collaterals  from LAD/LCX.

F.The collateral flow  in CTO also depend on whether flow is directed from LAD system to RCA or from RCA -LAD system. The LAD is better placed to assist RCA than vice versa.This is for two reasons.1.LAD blood flow is higher than RCA so it can share it.2.The driving pressure is more  from LAD -RCA , as RCA can receive  blood flow even during diastole .

F.During exertion , the coronary hemodynamics become further complex.The collateral’s are traditionally thought to be less than adequate during times of exercise.But it is more of a perception than solid scientific data.This rule  may be applicable in only certain group of patients. We know CTO patients with very good exercise tolerance who have documented collateral’s.

G.Collaterals can be either  visible or invisible by CAG. The strength of collateral circulation is not in it’s visibility but it’s capacity to dilate and  respond to neuro humoral mediators at times of  demand.  Currently  , there is lot to be desired  regarding  our knowledge about  the physiology  of visible collaterals , no need to  mention about invisible collaterals !

Final message

The above statements  are based  on logics and observations .

Is it not a  irony  in cardiac literature ,  where  thousands of articles  are coming out every month  to tackle  totally occluded coronary artery(CTOs) ,  there is  very little data   regarding the coronary hemodynamics in chronic total occlusion .   How  does a patient with CTO can manage a active life with only one functioning  coronary artery ?

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                                                      Coronary arterial circulation is the life line for  the human heart  and it’s survival.Typically it is supplied by two coronary arteries,  left and right coronary artery.Both, together carry about  250ml of blood every minute.( Approxinately  equal to a  cup of  coke !  ).These coronary arteries  generally divide in a predetermined  fashion , and have multiple branches . It is a  mystery , what  decides this  branching pattern

Is it like a our palmar crease  ? or the cerebral gyri ?

However , it does follow a certain rule,  one major coronary artery  will follow the  four  important grooves of heart. In the left side ,  left main coronary artery (LM) originates in the left coronary sinus (Size varying between 1mm -20mm)  and usually bifurcates into LAD and LCX. The left anterior descending artery (LAD) runs in anterior interventricular  groove while ,  the right atrio ventriculo groove carries the right coronary artery(RCA) .Left  circumflex artery (LCX) traverses the  left atrio ventricular groove.The most inconstant branch is the posterior descending artery (PDA) which runs in the posterior interventricular  groove.PDA  can arise from either RCA, LCX or both or even from LAD.

The major branches of LAD are called diagonal and septal  while the branches of LCX are called obtuse marginal(OM).There can be two to three diagonal and OMs. 

What is ramus intermedius coronary artery ? What is the incidence of Ramus ?

The left main coronary artery  instead of bifurcating into two ,  it trifurcates into three vessels.(LAD, LCX, Ramus)

The real incidence could vary betweenn (10% to 30%) depending upon the series.


What course it takes ?

It generally goes in the angle between the LAD and the LCX.It may either behave like a large OM or a diagonal branch.It supplies the lateral free wall of the LV many times.The peculiarity of this vessel is it does not run in a anatomical groove .It simply slides over the free surface of LV.Rarely, a  very abnormal course of ramus,  criss cross the aorta and pulmonary artery .

How common is atherosclerosis within  Ramus ?

We don’t know yet. But it is very likely since it is an early branch from left main, it  might  have a  predilection for atherosclerosis  as like LAD or LCX ostium.In fact now we recognise more of  trifurcation lesions involving  three branches of left main .

What would be the ECG finding if a large ramus is the culpirit vessel during STEMI ?

This scenario could be rare.

ACS in ramus could  present as ST elevation in 1/Avl /V5,V6

  • Lateral MI
  • Apical MI
  • High lateral MI

But it is realised , whenever the ECG changes are not fitting with typical ASMI or a lateral MI one should suspect a ramus lesion

 What is the significance of ramus for an interventional cardiologist ?


                                                   PCI in ramus is a rare opportunity for a cardiologist .The issue here  is,  if ramus is involved  adjacent LAD and LCX is also likely to be involved .So it would logically be a multivessel , complex angioplasty.Isolated ramus lesion could be tackled easily.Another issue here could  be ,since this vessel is not within  any anatomical groove  stent deployment would have a poor  support and prone for mobilisation and migration .

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Coronary angiogram is a video graphic  snap shot of coronary arterial lumen which is filled with radio opaque dye. This is some times called as coronary luminogram . It is a paradox , when we say normal coronary angiogram we can only mean  normal coronary lumen. But  generally, this can provide sufficient  information regarding the status of  coronary blood flow.There are three structured layers in coronary artery wall . Coronary angiogram  can not give any information about the status of the intima, media or adventia .

Lesions A to F may be totally missed by conventional coronary angiogram

Lesions A to F may be totally missed by conventional coronary angiogram

A patient with normal coronay angiogram can have diffuse  atheroscelrosis or  localised atherosclerosis within the media of coronary artery .Many times these atherosclerotic plaques grow outward into the adventia and fail to encroach upon the lumen to be detected by coronary angiogram. These plaques , even though has an hemodynamic advantage, in that it doesn’t block blood flow , has a serious risk for sudden rupture and result in an acute coronary syndrome.

So what is the message?

A normal coronary angiogram can never convey a meaning of normal coronary arteries.

A person who has a normal coronary angiogram has no guarantee that he won’t develop a coronary event in the near future.(But the the chances are very low)

If coronary angiogram has serious limitations  what is the next alternative ?

Intra vascular ultra sound imaging(IVUS) can give us an idea of the coronary arterial wall anatomy. This investigation , though available for clinical application is too complex for regular use.So , you  can’t subject every patient with normal CAG  to an IVUS  (Intra vascualar ultra sound) to confirm the normality. The best option is what we follow every day in our practice  .Tell your patients   with normal coronary angiogram , that they are likely to  have  normal coronary arteries  ! don’t add up to their anxiety by saying,  in spite of normal CAG  still they  can carry  gross atherosclerosis in their  arteries. Anxiety can precipitate an coronary event. Too much technical information to the patients  can be counter productive. Instead  advice regular life style modification,  blood pressure ,diabetes, lipid  control  etc .

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