Jan. 2, 2008— -- The 65-year-old former Beatle Paul McCartney may have had an angioplasty procedure to open up a blocked heart artery, according to British tabloid reports.
The Sun daily reported Wednesday that McCartney had undergone an angioplasty. And The Daily Telegraph's online edition reported that he had the operation last fall.
According to the reports, McCartney has recovered fully from the surgery.
Neither McCartney's press officer nor the hospital at which the procedure was reportedly performed would comment on whether any procedure actually took place involving the singer.
But Dr. Deepak Bhatt, associate director of the Cardiovascular Coordinating Center at the Cleveland Clinic says it would be little surprise if the reports were true.
"That is the right age range to start having heart problems," he says. "There is nothing particularly unusual or surprising about a 65-year-old male developing coronary artery blockages or requiring angioplasty/stenting procedures."
Dr. Christopher Cannon, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, agrees that McCartney's profile would fit that of a patient who might require an angioplasty.
"High cholesterol is a common risk factor, but being male and his age are risk factors alone," he says, adding that a number of high-profile individuals have had similar procedures, such as Vice President Dick Cheney in March 2001.
"He does appear to have recovered well, as most people do, and they can return to work as Cheney did two days after his angioplasty," said Cannon.
Coronary angioplasty uses a tiny balloon to open a blockage in an artery of the heart, generally after plaque has narrowed the space through which blood can flow.
"It is not really an 'operation' as [the tabloids] describe," Cannon says. "It is better said a 'procedure.'"
During angioplasty, a cardiologist passes a thin tube through a blood vessel in the groin and guides it up to the artery in the heart that needs opening.
Once the artery is opened by the balloon, most angioplasties involve the placement of a stent — a small sleeve of wire mesh that acts like a scaffold to keep the artery open.
Angioplasty is a common procedure in the United States, with more than 1 million people a year receiving them annually, according to the National Institutes of Health. Serious complications are rare.
But if McCartney in fact needed an angioplasty, it could point to heart ills that may worsen if he is not careful.
Some are already speculating about the possible link between these heart troubles and McCartney's widely publicized split with wife Heather, 39, last year.
But doctors maintain that any such link remains unclear.
"Whether stress — such as from an impending divorce — can directly cause coronary artery disease independent of ... other risk factors remains uncertain," says Dr. Gregg Stone, director of cardiovascular research and education at Columbia University Medical Center in New York.