Doctors more often are using a catheterization procedure that uses a vein in the wrist rather than the groin.

A heart test that starts by inserting a tube through the wrist instead of the groin is being used more frequently throughout the United States, medical officials say.

Cardiac catheterization is a procedure commonly used to diagnose and treat heart conditions, including chest pain and blocked arteries. Traditionally, the test involved inserting a long, thin, flexible tube into the femoral artery in the groin and snaking it toward the heart.

But for the last several years, medical professionals have increasingly used the radial access procedure by inserting the tube into the radial artery in the wrist instead of in the groin, said Dr. Christian A. Zellner, an interventional cardiologist who has helped build the radial catheterization program at Memorial Medical Center in Springfield, Ill.

"Coronary devices have gotten smaller and smaller, and with more powerful blood thinners, the risk of the procedure is going way, way down," said Zellner.

Zellner said the wrist procedure, which involves a smaller artery, also cuts down the risk of bleeding by 50 percent.

Memorial Medical Center recently sent a dozen of its catheterization lab and nursing unit staff members to the University of Chicago for additional training on the procedure, which has been used widely in Europe and China for years.

Carolyn Cole, 74, of Springfield, Ill., has experienced both procedures and said the ‘wrist version’ was better.

"Two years ago, I had a groin catheterization at Barnes Jewish Hospital (in St. Louis) in which I had to lay flat for six hours," she said. "Then, at five and half hours, I started to bleed. It was quite a bit of work to get the bleeding to stop. I even had to lay flat a longer period and didn't leave the hospital until the next day."

With the radial access procedure in the wrist earlier this year, Cole didn't have to lie flat at all.

"I was able to sit up right after the procedure," she said. "I was only in the recovery room for an hour and a half."

After getting home, her only restriction was not lifting anything heavier than a gallon of milk for a few days.

Dr. Gregory Mishkel, co-director of the Cardiac Catheterization lab at St. John's Hospital in Springfield, Ill., said the wrist procedure has been performed since 1997.

What has changed, however, is "doctors are understanding the demonstrable benefits, and it is being used more frequently," said Mishkel.

The procedure isn't for everyone, however. Some people have wrist arteries that are too small to accommodate catheterization.

"This would happen in about 5 percent of cases," said Zellner. "Also, patients who are on dialysis are also not likely candidates for radial access catheterizations."

According to the National Institutes of Health, an estimated 1.2 million cardiac catheterizations are performed in the United States each year.