Angioplasty is a procedure to open narrowed or blocked blood vessels that supply blood to the heart. These blood vessels are called the coronary arteries.
A coronary artery stent is a small, metal mesh tube that expands inside a coronary artery. A stent is often placed during or immediately after angioplasty. It helps prevent the artery from closing up again. A drug-eluting stent has medicine embedded in it that helps prevent the artery from closing in the long term.
Before the angioplasty procedure begins, you will receive some pain medicine. You may also be given medicine that relaxes you, and blood-thinning medicines to prevent a blood clot from forming.
You will lie on a padded table. Your doctor will insert a flexible tube (catheter) into an artery. Sometimes the catheter will be placed in your arm or wrist, or in your upper leg (groin) area. You will be awake during the procedure.
The doctor will use live x-ray pictures to carefully guide the catheter up into your heart and arteries. Liquid contrast (sometimes called "dye," will be injected into your body to highlight blood flow through the arteries. This helps the doctor see any blockages in the blood vessels that lead to your heart.
A guide wire is moved into and across the blockage. A balloon catheter is pushed over the guide wire and into the blockage. The balloon on the end is blown up (inflated). This opens the blocked vessel and restores proper blood flow to the heart.
A wire mesh tube (stent) may then be placed in this blocked area. The stent is inserted along with the balloon catheter. It expands when the balloon is inflated. The stent is left there to help keep the artery open.
The stent may be coated with a drug (called a drug-eluting stent). This type of stent may lower the chance of the artery closing back up in the future. Currently, drug-eluting stents are used in certain situations.
Arteries can become narrowed or blocked by deposits called plaque. Plaque is made up of fat and cholesterol that builds up on the inside of artery walls. This condition is called hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis).
Angioplasty may be used to treat:
Not every blockage can be treated with angioplasty. Some people who have several blockages or blockages in certain locations may need coronary bypass surgery.
Angioplasty is generally safe, but ask your doctor about the possible complications. Risks of angioplasty and stent placement are:
Angioplasty is often performed when you go to the hospital or emergency room for chest pain, or after a heart attack. If you are admitted to the hospital for angioplasty:
The average hospital stay is 2 days or less. Some people may not even have to stay overnight in the hospital.
In general, people who have angioplasty are able to walk around within a few hours after the procedure depending on how the procedure went and where the catheter was placed. Complete recovery takes a week or less. You will be given information how to care for yourself after angioplasty.
For most people, angioplasty greatly improves blood flow through the coronary artery and the heart. It may help you avoid the need for coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG).
Angioplasty does not cure the cause of the blockage in your arteries. Your arteries may become narrow again.
Follow your heart-healthy diet, exercise, stop smoking (if you smoke), and reduce stress to lower your chances of having another blocked artery.Your provider may prescribe medicine to help lower your cholesterol or control your blood pressure. Taking these steps can help reduce your chances of complications from atherosclerosis.
Reviewed By: Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.