Angioplasty is a procedure to open narrowed or blocked blood vessels that supply blood to the heart. These blood vessels are called coronary arteries. Often, one or more stents are placed in the affected coronary artery to help prevent it from closing again. A coronary artery stent is a small metal mesh tube that expands inside the artery. Drug-eluting stents may also be used to deliver medicine that helps prevent the artery from closing.

Arteries can become narrowed or blocked by deposits called plaque. Plaque is made up of fat and cholesterol that build up on the inside of the artery walls. This condition is called atherosclerosis. Not every blockage can be treated with angioplasty. Some may need a coronary bypass or open-heart surgery. Angioplasty may be used to treat:

  • Persistent chest pain (angina) that medicines do not control
  • Blockage of one or more coronary arteries that increases the risk of a heart attack
  • Blockage in a coronary artery during or after a heart attack

The procedure

A small incision is made, usually near the groin. A catheter (flexible tube) is inserted through the incision into an artery. The physician uses live x-ray images to guide the catheter through the artery up into the heart and arteries. Dye is injected to highlight blood flow through the arteries. The dye helps the physician see any blockages in the blood vessels that lead to the heart.

A guide wire is then moved through the catheter into and across the blockage. A balloon catheter is pushed over the guide wire and into the blockage. The balloon on the end is then inflated. It opens the blocked vessel and restores proper blood flow to the heart. A stent may then be placed in this blocked area to prevent the artery from closing again.

Angioplasty is generally safe, but a physician should be consulted about possible complications. Some risks include:

  • Allergic reaction to x-ray dye
  • Bleeding or clotting in the area where the catheter is inserted
  • Damage to a heart valve or blood vessel
  • Heart attack
  • Kidney failure
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Stroke (rare)
  • Allergic reaction to the stent material
  • Allergic reaction to the drug used in a drug-eluting stent
  • Blood clot
  • Clogging of the inside of the stent

The average hospital stay is two days or less. Some people may not even have to stay overnight. In general, people who have angioplasty are able to walk around within six hours after the procedure. Complete recovery usually takes a week or less.

Angioplasty does not cure the cause of the blockage in the arteries. See Wellness & Prevention for information on how to follow a heart-healthy diet and prevent future blockages.

Texas Health is committed to providing quality care to heart and vascular patients throughout North Texas and beyond. While various technologies and services are discussed here, not all of our hospitals offer every treatment and diagnostic technology highlighted. Call 1-877-THR-WELL to learn more about heart and vascular services at a Texas Health hospital near you.

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