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What is angioplasty?

Angioplasty is a procedure to improve blood flow in coronary arteries that have become narrow or blocked. Your coronary arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart. If you have coronary artery disease, a sticky material called plaque builds up in the coronary arteries. Plaque is made of cholesterol, calcium, and other substances in your blood. Over time, it can narrow your arteries or fully block them. When this happens, some parts of your heart don't get enough blood.

Angioplasty widens the blocked part of the artery so more blood can get through. It is also called percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI).

What conditions does angioplasty treat?

Doctors use angioplasty to:

  • Reduce chest pain from blockages in the coronary arteries. This type of pain is called angina. There are different types of angina. Angioplasty treats certain types.
  • Limit damage to the heart during or right after a heart attack. In this case, angioplasty is an emergency treatment.

Angioplasty does not cure coronary artery disease. To help prevent more plaque blockages, you'll need to take any prescribed medicines, eat healthy foods, and get regular exercise.

What happens during angioplasty?

Most people have angioplasties in a hospital in a special room called a cardiac catheterization, or cath, lab. You will be awake and lying down. You'll get medicine to help you relax through an intravenous (IV) line. This is a small tube that goes into a vein in your hand or arm.

Angioplasty is done through a blood vessel in your arm, wrist, or groin. Your doctor will:

  • Make a small opening in that area to insert a thin tube (a catheter) into a blood vessel.
  • Thread the tube through the vessel to your heart, using x-rays as a guide.
  • Inject contrast dye inside your arteries. The dye highlights your heart and blood vessels in the x-rays.
  • Replace the first tube with another one that has a small, deflated balloon on the end.
  • Guide the balloon inside the blockage and inflate it to push the plaque flat against the artery wall. This makes the artery wider and improves blood flow.
  • Sometimes put a small, mesh tube into the artery to help keep it open. The tube is called a stent. Some stents have a coating of medicine that helps prevent blood clots from forming.
What happens after an angioplasty?

If you had an angioplasty for chest pain, you'll go to a recovery room for a few hours. You may stay in the hospital overnight. Your doctor will probably prescribe medicines to prevent blood clots. Most people can return to their usual activities after a week.

If you had an emergency angioplasty for a heart attack, you'll need to stay in the hospital for about a few more days.

Are there any risks from angioplasty?

Angioplasty is very safe. You may get a bruise, feel sore, or have some bleeding where the tubes were inserted. More serious problems don't happen very often, but they are possible. They can include serious bleeding, blood clots, and narrowing of the artery again.

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute