Endovascular cryoplasty is an innovative method to open clogged arteries, and keep them open, for people with peripheral vascular disease (PVD). Increased blood flow improves the painful symptoms of PVD and can be performed with minimal downtime.

If you have peripheral vascular disease, your physician can evaluate your condition to determine if cryoplasty can help relieve your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

What Is Cryoplasty?

Cryoplasty is a minimally invasive treatment used for patients with peripheral vascular disease. It is an alternative to traditional angioplasty and stenting techniques. Typically, endovascular cryoplasty is performed to open narrowed or clogged arteries in the legs.

People who suffer from peripheral vascular disease often experience pain and numbness in their legs, caused by clogged arteries. Cryoplasty uses traditional balloon therapy, similar to angioplasty, but instead of inflating the balloon with a saline solution, in cryotherapy the balloon is inflated with nitrous oxide that is negative-10 degrees Celsius. This approach combines the expansive force of balloon angioplasty with intense cooling to open narrowed or clogged arteries.

How Does Cryoplasty Work?

The process works very similarly to angioplasty. A deflated balloon attached to a catheter is inserted into a blood vessel through an incision, usually in the arm or groin. From there, X-ray technology and contrast dye are used to guide the balloon-tipped catheter through the blood vessel and into the blocked coronary artery.

Once in place, the balloon is inflated with liquid nitrous oxide that converts into gas form when it is released into the balloon. The cold, inflated balloon compresses some of the plaque against the wall of the artery. When the balloon is deflated and removed, the plaque remains compressed and the artery stays open. Nitrous oxide is very cold, which weakens plaque and destroys cells to prevent scar tissue from forming and re-clogging the artery.

Who Is a Candidate for Cryoplasty?

Patients with peripheral vascular disease who are suffering from pain, numbness or wounds that do not heal properly can benefit from a cryoplasty procedure. By compressing the plaque that has built up in the arteries, cryoplasty can reduce pain and improve circulation. Sufficient blood flow and circulation are essential for your heart and entire vascular system to function properly.

Before having cryoplasty, your physician may recommend other methods to improve your peripheral vascular disease. Changes in lifestyle habits, including eating healthy foods, getting regular exercise and quitting smoking can have significant impacts on your vascular health. In addition, your physician may recommend taking a cholesterol-lowering medication or a medication to help prevent blood clots from forming. If these measures do not improve your symptoms, cryoplasty may be an appropriate next step.

What To Expect During the Procedure

Cryoplasty is performed by a vascular interventionalist with a team of specialized nurses and other technicians. Most patients do not require general anesthesia, and remain awake during the whole process.

Many patients receive an intravenous (IV) sedative to help them relax during the procedure. You will receive local anesthesia at the site of the incision, which is usually in the groin. Once the local anesthesia has numbed the incision area, the balloon-tipped catheter will be inserted and guided through a blood vessel into the blocked portion of the artery.

When the catheter reaches the correct location, the balloon is inflated with nitrous oxide and cooled to negative-10 degrees Celsius. After the inflated balloon has compressed the buildup of plaque and expanded the narrowed artery, the catheter will be removed.

Risks and Side Effects

Cryoplasty is a less invasive way to expand narrowed or clogged arteries, but there are still risks involved. Some of the possible side effects include:

  • Bleeding, bruising or infection at the site where the catheter was inserted
  • Blood clots
  • Re-narrowing of the artery
  • Rupture of the artery
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke

After the Procedure

Some patients are able to go home the same day as the cryoplasty procedure. Others may need to stay in the hospital overnight. You may have pain or bruising at the incision site, but most people are able to return to work about a week after having cryoplasty. Talk with your physician about when it is safe to resume normal activities.

Cryoplasty improves quality of life for many patients. Because the procedure increases blood flow through your peripheral arteries, you should feel a noticeable difference in symptoms like pain or numbness. It is important to remember that the procedure does not cure peripheral vascular disease. You will need to practice healthy lifestyle habits and take the medications prescribed by your doctor.

Schedule an Appointment

Memorial Hermann-affiliated heart and vascular specialists are committed to using a multidisciplinary approach to provide exceptional care. Our highly skilled practitioners utilize leading-edge technology to diagnose and treat cardiovascular concerns.

To learn more about cryoplasty and peripheral vascular disease, visit Find a Doctor to schedule an appointment.

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