Heart Catheterization

  • Medicine & Health
  • 1949

Surgeries to alleviate congenital heart diseases began to advance rapidly in the 1940s and 1950s. Many of the techniques for detecting and diagnosing heart problems, however—life histories, physical examination, fluoroscopy, radiography, electrocardiography—remained comparatively underdeveloped or risky. This was holding back the revolution in cardiac care.

With funding from the Commonwealth Fund, Columbia University medical professor André Cournand and several colleagues pioneered various refinements in cardiac catheterization. This allowed oxygen levels and blood pressure to be safely tested right within the heart chambers, dramatically improving accurate diagnoses. These techniques were detailed in a 1949 book by Cournand and two others, which was in turn published by the Commonwealth Fund.

This work eventually yielded a 1956 Nobel Prize in medicine for the physicians supported by the fund. And the resulting clinical procedures turned cardiac catheterization into a routine diagnostic procedure. That allowed and supported tremendous advances in cardiac surgery—which over a 30-year period reduced U.S. deaths from heart disease by more than 50 percent.