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What is angioplasty?

Your heart's arteries may become blocked or narrowed due to a buildup of cholesterol, cells or other substances (plaque). Sometimes a blood clot can form or worsen, and it can completely block blood flow, causing a heart attack. Angioplasty is a surgery done to open blocked arteries and restore normal blood flow. 


There is a minor risk that a blood clot could form inside the stent, blocking blood flow in the artery. Your doctor will prescribe aspirin or other medicine to help prevent this. 


Although angioplasty is performed in blood vessels elsewhere in the body, percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) refers to angioplasty in the coronary arteries to permit more blood flow into the heart. There are several types of PCI procedures, including:

  • Balloon angioplasty — a small balloon is inflated inside the blocked artery to open the area.
  • Atherectomy — the blocked area inside the artery is shaved away by a tiny device on the end of a catheter.
  • Laser angioplasty — a laser is used to vaporize the blockage in the artery.
  • Coronary artery stent — a tiny coil is expanded inside the blocked artery to open the blocked area and is left in place to keep the artery open.

What to expect

Angioplasty is not major surgery and causes little pain. A doctor numbs a spot on your groin or arm and inserts a catheter into an artery, threading it through the arterial system into a coronary artery while viewing the procedure on a special X-ray screen. Next, a very thin wire is threaded through the catheter and across the blockage. Over this wire, a catheter with a thin, expandable balloon on the end is passed to the blockage. The balloon is inflated, pushing aside plaque and stretching the artery open so that blood can flow more easily. This catheter procedure may be done more than once. Sometimes a collapsed wire mesh tube (stent), with a special balloon, is moved over the wire to the blocked area. As the balloon inflates, it opens the stent against the artery walls. The stent locks in position, keeping the artery open, and the balloon and catheters are removed. Blood will now be able to flow properly into your heart.


When the catheter is removed, a nurse or doctor will apply direct pressure for 15 minutes or longer to the place where the catheter was inserted, ensuring that there’s no internal bleeding. If angioplasty is done through the leg, for several hours you’ll lie on your back and periodically be checked for any signs of bleeding or chest discomfort. If the procedure is done through the arm, you won’t need to remain lying down, though an overnight hospital stay is usually required. Sometimes a longer stay is necessary. You must avoid heavy lifting or vigorous physical activity for one to two days after the procedure. 

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