The Evolution Of Treating Heart Conditions

For decades, St. Clair Hospital has cared for the hearts of Pittsburgh residents. Every day at St. Clair, heart attacks are halted, damaged hearts are repaired, arteries are re-opened, heart rhythms are stabilized – and lives are saved and renewed.

Through the years, St. Clair’s cardiac care services have expanded in size and scope and continue to evolve, bringing every available resource – human and technological – to the care of patients. But to truly understand where St. Clair stands today, it’s helpful to examine the history of heart health and the care available to address it:

The 1970s
The now-routine option of surgically assisting those with heart disease did not even exist until the 1960s and 1970s. But thanks to the progression of technology, cardiac surgeons began using a new procedure to address heart problems: the coronary artery bypass graft (CABG). This open-chest surgical procedure was invasive but effective, as it could successfully restore blood flow to oxygen-deprived heart muscle by replacing diseased coronary arteries with healthy blood vessels grafted from other parts of the body. The procedure began saving lives immediately – and is still a treatment option today.











The 1990s

The 1990s saw the development of several key heart care options:

  • Balloon Angioplasty: During this procedure, a balloon-like device is inserted into a blocked or narrowed blood vessel. By inflating the inserted balloon, cardiologists gained the ability to re-establish blood flow to the heart muscle without invasive surgery. This procedure, and the CABG procedure, saved thousands of lives and prevented countless first and second heart attacks.
  • Stents: Stents are tiny hollow tubes that are placed in coronary arteries to hold them open. Stents gave doctors another less invasive treatment option than open-chest surgery. This alternative procedure, however, was problematic, as re-stenosis – or renarrowing – of the artery was common within just six to nine months after initial treatment. re-stenonis occurred when the body reacted to the stents as they would a foreign presence – leading to inflammation and similar problematic symptoms. Some stents were eventually made of chromium, titanium or cobalt, which experts hoped would help to inhibit re-stenosis. Unfortunately, even these bare metal stents could not always prevent a bad reaction.

In 2003, a third generation of stents was introduced that dramatically impacted heart care. Known as drug-eluting stents, they were made of metal and coated with a polymer that contained and delivered timed-release drugs to the walls of the coronary artery. This tricked the body into thinking that the stent was not a foreign presence, allowing doctors to bypass the body’s inflammatory response entirely and preventing the majority of re-narrowing cases. As a result, only 5 to 8 percent of stent patients experience a re-narrowing of their blood vessels – versus 35 percent of patients with bare metal stents.

2003 Onward: Treating Heart Conditions TodayToday, thanks to a combination of treatment and imaging options, treating coronary heart disease is easier than ever before. Still, doctors are constantly alert when evaluating patients and determining the best way to help them. Keeping a keen eye and utilizing deep scrutiny is important in assisting any patient dealing with heart problems.

That level of care is exactly what physicians at St. Clair Hospital provide to our patients on a daily basis – with life-saving results. We’ve even collected some of the stories of how our heart care has transformed and helped the patients who come to us for help. To read these testimonials, and to explore the state of heart health at St. Clair today, please download the most recent edition of St. Clair Hospital’s HouseCall magazine.