Coronary Angioplasty

What is a Coronary Angioplasty?

A coronary angioplasty is a procedure performed by an interventional cardiologist. It opens up narrowed or blocked heart arteries, which are the blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart. On average, arteries are an eighth of an inch in diameter and over time, plaque (such as cholesterol) can build up and restrict blood flow, starving the body of oxygen-rich blood. An angioplasty restores blood flow by widening the artery. The symptoms of a blocked artery, including shortness of breath and chest pain (called angina) during physical exertion, are typically improved.

How does a balloon angioplasty work?

During an angioplasty, a tiny balloon is placed in the blocked artery using cardiac catheterization. For this process, a patient goes to a hospital’s cardiac catheterization laboratory (or cath lab), which is designed to give patients quick and effective treatment.

For the catheterization process, the patient is sedated and numbed where a thin tube (the catheter) is inserted into a blood vessel in the groin. The catheter is guided to the heart using x-ray imaging. A special dye is injected through the catheter and into the arteries to make the blood vessels visible on an x-ray and help the cardiologist see the blockage. When the balloon is positioned in the diseased artery, it is then inflated with a high amount of pressure to widen the narrow or blocked artery by crushing the blockage against the artery walls to hold the artery open.

The entire procedure usually takes 45 minutes to an hour. Most patients feel no pain with only slight discomfort for a few seconds in their chest when the balloon is inflated. Most patients spend the night in the hospital and leave the next day, returning to work in three to four days.

A stent is often placed in the artery after the angioplasty is completed. A stent is a small, wire mesh tube about the size of a ballpoint pen spring. The stent is inserted, using the catheter, to help keep the artery open. With a stent, there is less chance of that artery becoming restricted again than if a patient had a balloon angioplasty alone. Some stents are coated with medication that also helps keep the artery open.

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