LAYTON -- Treating coronary artery blockages and peripheral artery disease has become easier, thanks to a new treatment a local doctor is using to combat the disease.
Excimer laser ablation is a minimally invasive procedure which restores blood flow to the legs and feet. The treatment, which is the only approved laser procedure by the Food and Drug Administration, has also been shown to prevent amputation in many patients.
West Point resident Amanda Giffin-Ralphs, 54, said without the procedure she could easily have lost one or both of her legs.
"In the United States, PAD affects 8 million to 12 million people," said Dr. Gaurav Aggarwala, a Layton interventional cardiologist who recently began using the new technology. "PAD often goes undiagnosed. This can be dangerous because progressive disease can lead to pain in extremities, loss of extremities and increased risk of disease of the heart arteries. It also makes for a very poor quality of life. Patient disability from PAD is a significant problem."
During excimer laser ablation, the laser produces pulsed bursts of ultraviolet light energy that are capable of gently dissolving plaque and calcium into tiny particles, the majority of which are smaller than a red blood cell and are easily absorbed into the bloodstream, Aggarwala said.
The energy is transmitted along flexible glass fibers encased in catheters which can be passed through arteries and veins to treat occluded arteries in the legs and heart. The procedure provides immediate relief of symptoms and requires less recovery time than older treatments.
In the past, patients required bypass surgery, Aggarwala said. The surgery carries a greater risk for patients, especially for those who are already at risk for stroke or heart attack.
Aggarwala performs the treatment at Davis Hospital and Medical Center, the only hospital in the Top of Utah performing excimer laser ablation.
PAD, or Peripheral Artery Disease, occurs when arteries become clogged or narrowed with fatty deposits called plaque, said Aggarwala. The disease occurs more often in arteries of the leg but can occur in the neck, arms, kidney and stomach.
PAD is similar to having a slow, continuous heart attack in the leg. Plaque builds up in the artery which hardens and clings to the artery walls, narrowing the passageway through which blood flows.
The result is less blood to the lower legs, feet and toes which causes pain or numbness and the inability for wounds to heal.
People with PAD are six times more likely to experience a stroke or heart attack than those without the disease. In drastic cases, PAD can lead to gangrene and amputation.
Giffin-Ralphs, who works full time in admitting at Davis Hospital and Medical Center, said, "I'm on my feet all day. I started having a lot of leg pain and discomfort but I just passed it off as my (multiple sclerosis) getting worse."
"It was a very heavy, achy pain and it kept getting worse," she said.
Ralphs went to her family doctor who told her she needed to see a cardiologist. She was stunned.
"When you think of a cardiologist, you think of your heart and chest pain," she said. "The cardiologist ran some tests and told me I had PAD."
Ralphs said she had 100 percent blockage in one leg and almost 100 percent blockage in the other leg. Without treatment, she could lose her legs.
"I had the first leg done and then three weeks later I had the second leg done," Ralphs said. "I feel wonderful now. When I first got the pain I just figured I would go on and live with it but now I know I didn't have to do that. Not only that, but if I had gone on it could have killed me."
Aggarwala said it's important to see a doctor right away if you're experiencing leg pain.
"Don't assume that leg pain is just a normal sign of aging. It can be your body's way of telling you something important," he said. "Know your risks."