What is angioplasty?

Angioplasty is a procedure for stretching open a blocked artery using a thin catheter with a balloon at the end. A metal mesh device called a stent is usually left in the artery to help keep the blood vessel open.

The blocked artery may be anywhere in the body. If the blocked artery is a blood vessel that supplies blood to the heart, the procedure is called percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI). It may also be called coronary angioplasty or percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA).

When is it used?

Blood flow through arteries can become blocked or narrowed by plaque. Plaque is a buildup of fats, cholesterol, and other substances on the inside walls of the arteries. Angioplasty can improve blood flow in an artery without major surgery.

Angioplasty is used to treat symptoms caused by:

  • Coronary artery disease (narrowing or blockage of the arteries that supply blood to the heart)
  • Peripheral vascular disease (blocked arteries supplying blood to the limbs, especially the legs)
  • Carotid artery disease (narrowing or blockage of the arteries in your neck)
  • Renovascular disease (narrowing or blockage of the arteries going to the kidneys)

This procedure may be done during a heart attack to reduce heart muscle damage from the heart attack.

Ask your healthcare provider about your choices for treatment and the risks.

How do I prepare for this procedure?

  • Make plans for your care and recovery after you have the procedure. Find someone to give you a ride home after the procedure. Allow for time to rest and try to find other people to help with your day-to-day tasks while you recover.
  • Follow your provider's instructions about not smoking before and after the procedure. Smokers may have more breathing problems during the procedure and heal more slowly. It’s best to quit 6 to 8 weeks before surgery.
  • You may or may not need to take your regular medicines the day of the procedure. Some medicines (like aspirin) may increase your risk of bleeding during or after the procedure. Tell your healthcare provider about all medicines and supplements that you take. Ask your provider if you need to avoid taking any medicine or supplements before the procedure.
  • Your healthcare provider may prescribe medicine to prevent blood clots from forming during and after the procedure.
  • Tell your healthcare provider if you have any food or medicine allergies.
  • Tell your healthcare provider if you have had any kidney problems or reactions to iodine-containing foods or chemicals, such as seafood or X-ray contrast dye.
  • Your healthcare provider will tell you when to stop eating and drinking before the procedure. This helps to keep you from vomiting during the procedure.
  • Follow any other instructions your healthcare provider gives you.
  • Your healthcare provider will talk about your choices for treatment and explain the procedure and any risks. You should understand what your healthcare provider is going to do and how long it will take you to recover. You have the right to make decisions about your healthcare and to give permission for any tests or procedures.
  • Talk to your provider about what happens after the procedure, such as:
    • Caring for your surgical wound
    • Taking medicines to relieve pain, prevent infection, or treat other problems
    • Avoiding some activities for a while
    • Symptoms or problems to watch for and what to do if you have them
    • When you can return to your normal activities
    • When you should come back for a checkup

What happens during the procedure?

This procedure is usually done at the hospital.

You will be given medicines called an anesthetic to keep you from feeling pain and medicine to help you relax. You will stay awake during the procedure.

Your healthcare provider will put a catheter with a deflated balloon at its tip into a blood vessel in your arm or groin. A catheter is a very thin, flexible tube. X-rays and a dye injected through the catheter may be used to help show where the catheter is as your provider moves the catheter to the blocked artery. When the balloon reaches the narrow part of the artery, your provider will inflate the balloon. Inflating the balloon stretches the walls of the narrowed artery. If a stent is left in the artery, it may be coated with medicine to help keep the blood vessel open. Your healthcare provider will then deflate the balloon and remove the catheter and wire.

What happens after the procedure?

After the procedure you will go back to your hospital room and rest in bed. You will have a pressure dressing on the area where the catheter was inserted to prevent bleeding.

The length of time that you will need to stay in the hospital will depend on the reason you needed the procedure and how well you recover. This is often 2 to 3 days after you have the procedure.

People with successful angioplasty have good long-term results. However, your arteries may narrow again. If this happens, it usually happens within 6 months after the first procedure.

What are the risks of this procedure?

Every procedure or treatment has risks. Some possible risks of this procedure include:

  • You may have problems with anesthesia.
  • You may have infection, bleeding, or blood clots.
  • In rare cases you may have an allergic reaction to medicines used during the procedure.
  • The dye could damage the kidneys. If you have diabetes or kidney disease, you may have a higher risk for kidney damage. Your healthcare provider may want you to take medicine before and after the test to help protect your kidneys.
  • The procedure can cause irregular heart rhythms, which could need treatment.
  • The catheter may damage an artery, for example, the blood vessel in the groin or arm where the catheter was inserted.
  • While not common, a heart attack or stroke might be triggered by the procedure.

Ask your healthcare provider how these risks apply to you. Be sure to discuss any other questions or concerns that you may have.

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