What is Angioplasty?

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Previously published on Answers.com.

High cholesterol can lead to plaque formation in the arteries, which can ultimately block the flow of blood to the heart.  When blood flow is compromised, the result can be chest pain and, if left untreated, can lead to a heart attack. Coronary angioplasty is a procedure doctors use to open blocked arteries, returning normal blood flow to the heart.

What Is Coronary Angioplasty?

A coronary angioplasty is a non-surgical procedure used to open clogged heart arteries. Also called ‘balloon angioplasty’ or ‘percutaneous percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), this procedure was first performed in the 1970s.  During the procedure, a doctor threads a very small catheter (tube) with a balloon at its tip through the artery to the blocked area. There, the balloon is inflated so that it presses the plaque against the artery wall, restoring good blood flow.

What Is A Stent?

Often, when performing a coronary angioplasty, the doctor will permanently place a small wire mesh tube called a stent into the artery.  This helps keep the artery open and decrease the chance of it narrowing again.  There are two types of stents: drug-eluting stents are coated with medication to help keep the artery open, while bare-metal stents do not contain medication.

Who Needs Coronary Angioplasty?

Those with plaque buildup or blockages in their coronary artery may need a coronary angioplasty to open up the artery and restore good blood flow to the heart. Coronary angioplasty is also used during a heart attack; in an emergency heart attack situation, quickly opening the blockage can help minimize damage to the heart.

Some people with coronary heart disease can be treated with non-invasive coronary angioplasty rather than open-heart surgery. But if the coronary heart disease is severe or if the blockage is on the left side of the heart, coronary angioplasty will likely not be the treatment the doctor recommends.

How Do You Know If You Need Coronary Angioplasty?

Those with symptoms of blocked arteries may need coronary angioplasty – with or without stents.  The symptoms of blocked arteries include chest pain and shortness of breath. Ultimately, a doctor makes the call as to whether coronary angioplasty is required.  And of course, if you have any chest pain, you should call 911.

Is Coronary Angioplasty Dangerous?

While any medical treatment carries risk, serious complications from coronary angioplasty do not often occur.  The most common side effects are bleeding and/or discomfort from the catheter insertion site, which is in the groin.

Conclusion

For many, coronary angioplasty can relieve symptoms of atherosclerosis or coronary heart disease in a far less invasive procedure than open-heart surgery.  Though performed in a hospital, a coronary angioplasty is usually an outpatient procedure, and is non-surgical so it’s a far easier procedure and recovery than open-heart surgery. But it’s not the right treatment for all coronary heart disease or blockages; a cardiologist will determine whether coronary angioplasty is the right treatment option for a particular set of symptoms and medical issues.

Did You Know?

As explained by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s What To Expect After Coronary Angioplasty, making lifestyle changes after a coronary angioplasty is important.  “Although angioplasty can reduce the symptoms of coronary heart disease (CHD), it isn’t a cure for CHD or the risk factors that led to it. Making healthy lifestyle changes can help treat CHD and maintain the good results from angioplasty. Talk with your doctor about your risk factors for CHD and the lifestyle changes you should make. Lifestyle changes might include changing your diet, quitting smoking, being physically active, losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight, and reducing stress.”

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