Cardiac catheterization is a procedure that helps doctors diagnose conditions of your heart muscles, valves, and arteries.
Cardiac catheterization involves inserting a thin tube into a large blood vessel that leads to your heart to diagnose conditions, such as:
The procedure is considered relatively safe, but like all surgical procedures, it comes with a risk of complications, such as:
Research reports that cholesterol embolism is a complication of intravascular procedures like cardiac catheterization in 0.6–0.9% of people. A cholesterol embolism is a crystal made up of cholesterol and other substances that breaks off a blood vessel. It can lead to organ damage when it gets lodged in small blood vessels.
Read on to learn more about the connection between cholesterol emboli and cardiac catheterization.
A cholesterol embolism is when a cholesterol crystal called an emboli breaks off from plaque inside a blood vessel and gets stuck in a smaller blood vessel. Plaque is the buildup of fatty substances inside your arteries.
- heart valve replacements
- stent placement
- carotid endarterectomy
- coronary angiography
- coronary angioplasty
Most emboli break off the aorta or its major branches. Your aorta is the major blood vessel leading away from your heart.
Cholesterol emboli are
Other risk factors include:
Symptoms of an embolism can vary depending on where the emboli get stuck. The three
- kidneys (31.5%)
- skin (15.5%)
- gastrointestinal tract (13.4%)
General symptoms can include:
Specific symptoms of an embolism that may develop include:
A cholesterol embolism can be life threatening. The most common life threatening complication is end-stage kidney failure. In autopsy studies — those done after death — researchers have reported kidney involvement in
Other serious complications can include:
- high blood pressure
- bowel ischemia, reduced blood flow to your bowel
- pancreatitis, inflammation of the pancreas
- cholecystitis, inflammation of the gallbladder
- sphenic infarction, loss of blood flow to your spleen
- carotid stenosis
- heart attack
- multiorgan failure
People who develop cholesterol embolism often have advanced cardiovascular disease and are in poor overall health. Research has reported death rates as high as
Cholesterol embolisms often cause general symptoms that are hard to tell apart from other conditions. The majority of cases develop after vascular procedures like coronary catheterization. Symptoms often occur within hours to days of the procedure.
It’s important to visit your doctor as soon as possible if you develop any symptoms of an embolism after your procedure, such as abdominal pain or discoloration of your fingers or toes.
Most embolisms develop in men over age 60 with a history of atherosclerosis, so it’s particularly important to visit your doctor if you fall into this demographic.
A cholesterol embolism can be life threatening. It’s critical to call emergency medical services or go to the nearest emergency room if you or somebody you’re with develops concerning or rapidly progressing symptoms. These might include, but are not limited to:
- chest pain
- loss of consciousness
- shortness of breath
Treatment for a cholesterol embolism is usually supportive since no particular treatment has been developed.
You may be given medications to restore blood flow. Medications your doctor may prescribe to you include:
Further cardiovascular procedures should be avoided if possible to minimize the risk of future embolism.
You may receive surgery to remove the blockage if your doctor can precisely locate the emboli and you’re in good overall health. However, the exact location of the embolism often cannot be located.
Lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of future embolisms. Some changes might include:
- regular exercise
- maintaining a healthy weight
- quitting smoking
- reducing stress in your life
- eating a balanced diet
- lowering your blood pressure if it’s high
Some of these changes can be challenging, especially quitting smoking or losing weight. Reach out to a doctor to help create a sustainable plan that works for you.
A cholesterol embolism is a potential complication of cardiac catheterization and other procedures where a small tube or catheter is inserted into one of your arteries. It most often develops in men over age 60 with atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaque in their blood vessels.
Cholesterol embolisms can be life threatening. It’s important to get medical attention if you develop any symptoms in the days after your procedure.
Your doctor may give you medications to help remove the blockage and other supportive treatments.