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What Is a Coil Embolization?

A neurosurgeon typically performs coil embolizations to treat brain aneurysms.
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  • Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 25 November 2014
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A coil embolization describes a minimally invasion surgical procedure to treat aneurysms and fistulas in the brain. Via a catheter inserted in the groin, tiny coils are guided to the brain and detached from the catheter to block blood flow to the aneurysm or fistula. One or more platinum coils are left in place to prevent an aneurysm from rupturing.

A neuroradiologist or neurosurgeon typically performs the procedure in a hospital setting. The surgeon cuts a tiny slit in the groin to access the femoral artery. Using a dye to make the aneurysm visible in a computer image, the doctor threads the catheter through the artery. Once it nears an aneurysm, the surgeon releases coils from the catheter. The body produces blood clots around the coils to block blood flow.

An aneurysm represents a bulge or sac in a weak wall of an artery. The protrusion might put pressure on tissues and nerves in the brain, causing paralysis. It might also rupture, leading to stroke or death. A coil embolization might be used after an aneurysm ruptures to repair damage or before it breaks as a preventative measure.

Signs of an aneurysm include headache, nausea or vomiting, and upper back and neck pain. When these signs exist, doctors commonly perform imaging tests to determine if an aneurysm is present. A coil embolization typically is recommended when a patient cannot undergo brain surgery to prevent a rupture.

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Fistulas define an opening between veins and arteries, reducing the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the brain. These abnormal gaps commonly cause pressure in the eye, a major sign of glaucoma. Some fistulas cause double vision, pain, and unusual sounds in the ears, such as humming.

An alternative option exists when a coil embolization cannot be done because of the size or location of an aneurysm. If the bulge is quite large or appears at the base of the skull, balloon occlusion might work. This procedure uses inflated balloons to restrict blood flow. The process is similar to a coil embolization with catheterization of the femoral artery.

Risks of the procedure are considered low, but a stroke might occur during coil embolization. When this occurs, the patient might suffer weakness in a leg or arm. Speech and vision problems might also appear.

After coils are placed, patients remain flat for eight hours or more to allow the femoral artery to heal. They commonly return home a day or two later. After several months, an angiogram might be performed to determine if the coils remain in position.

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