What is angioplasty?

March 2, 2017

For people who have coronary artery disease, doctors may use a procedure called angioplasty to open arteries narrowed or blocked by plaque—a waxy substance that can build up in artery walls and reduce blood flow to the heart. Angioplasty can restore blood flow, which can relieve a type of chest pain called angina and also help prevent a heart attack.iStock-508832176.jpg

Angioplasty is usually done in a hospital, in an area called a cardiac catheterization laboratory—also known as the cath lab.

A doctor first uses a special dye to locate the narrowed or blocked part of an artery. To deliver the dye, the doctor inserts a thin tube called a catheter into a small incision, usually in the upper thigh. Guided by x-rays, he or she threads the catheter though a blood vessel to the heart.

Then the doctor uses the same incision to thread another, smaller catheter through the first one. This smaller catheter has a deflated balloon at its tip. When the x-ray shows that it has reached the narrowed or blocked part of the artery, the doctor inflates the balloon to compress the blockage.

In many cases, a metal mesh tube called a stent is inserted to help hold the artery open. The stent is collapsed around the balloon and expands with it to press into the artery wall. The stent stays in place when the catheters are removed.

Angioplasty takes about one to two hours to perform. It causes little pain, and patients usually receive sedation that leaves them awake but sleepy during the procedure. Most people stay in the hospital overnight after angioplasty.

Sources: American Heart Association; National Institutes of Health

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