Published on February 28, 2022

Heart Tech

Breaking Through: New Tech for Tough Cases of Heart Disease

A new technology adapted from the treatment of kidney stones is helping to safely restore blood flow to heart patients at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center.

Inpatients with coronary artery disease, deposits of cholesterol and other substances build in the walls of the arteries that supply blood to the heart. This build-up causes the arteries to narrow over time, partially or totally blocking the blood flow. The blockages can cause chest pain and lead to heart attack or heart failure.

Shockwave takes a novel approach to clearing blocked arteries with lithotripsy, a procedure that for decades has been used to dissolve kidney stones. Intravascular lithotripsy, or IVL, uses sonic pressure waves to safely break apart problematic calcium deposits in the arteries. The technology is a first-of-its-kind treatment for the most common form of heart disease. Coronary artery disease affects more than 18 million Americans and accounted for approximately 13% of deaths in the United States in 2018, according to the American Heart Association.

To clear blockages and restore proper blood flow to the heart, doctors typically use a balloon, or angioplasty, to open the artery and place a stent. However, when plaque build-up along the arteries hardens, it can resist even high-pressure balloons and make reopening an artery more difficult and potentially dangerous. A 2014 study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology noted that 30% of the approximately one million patients who undergo a stent procedure each year have this harder, problematic calcium.

In another treatment, atherectomy, small drills can crack the calcium and open the artery. However, the procedure can be challenging to perform. The new IVL technology allows physicians to fracture the problematic calcium more easily, safely expand the artery, place a stent and restore blood flow without unnecessary complications.


The technology further enhances the quality cardiac care available to patients at Shady Grove Medical Center. The Shockwave procedure takes place in the hospital’s cardiac catheterization lab, which is the only lab in the Washington, D.C., region to hold accreditation from the American College of Cardiology. In 2021, Shady Grove Medical Center earned the American Heart Association’s Mission: Lifeline® STEMI Receiving Center Gold recognition for its quality standards in the treatment of the deadliest form of heart attacks.

“The cardiology team at Shady Grove is committed to giving our patients access to the latest cardiovascular innovations to treat heart disease,” said Michael Chen, MD, chair of cardiology at Shady Grove Medical Center. “Shockwave is game-changing for our most complex cases and improves the safety of life-saving stent procedures for our community.”

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