Coronary Angioplasty

A coronary angioplasty is a procedure performed to improve blood flow, by re-opening or enlarging blocked arteries, in the heart. The blockages usually develop as a result of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis occurs when plaque builds up on the inner walls of the arteries and causes them to harden and narrow, often leading to coronary artery disease. A coronary angioplasty involves the insertion of a tiny balloon that is inflated to open and widen the artery. It is often combined with the insertion of a small wire tube, called a stent, that helps keep the artery open.

Candidates for a Coronary Angioplasty

A coronary angioplasty may be recommended for people with blockages in the arteries of their heart, especially if they are experiencing chest pain and discomfort. It may also be performed if lifestyle changes and medication have not been effective, and after an individual had a heart attack.

The Coronary Angioplasty Procedure

During the angioplasty procedure, an incision is made in the arm or groin, and a catheter is inserted. A contrast dye is injected through the catheter, to highlight the clogged areas during the procedure. A tube with a deflated balloon is inserted through the catheter to the blockage. The balloon is inflated to widen the artery, pushing the plaque aside allow the blood to flow through smoothly. To hold the artery open and prevent it from narrowing again, a wire mesh tube called a stent may be inserted. Some stents are coated with medication that is slowly released into the arteries to help prevent scar tissue from forming and blocking the artery. The coronary angioplasty takes approximately 1 to 2 hours, and patients are often sedated but awake.

Recovery from Coronary Angioplasty

After the procedure, patients are required to stay in the hospital for a few hours for monitoring. Some patients may stay in the hospital overnight for observation. The site where the catheter was inserted is checked for bleeding and patients may experience soreness or tenderness in the area. Medication is prescribed to help prevent blood clots from forming. Patients are often able to return to work approximately 1 week after the angioplasty procedure. Cardiac rehabilitation may be recommended after a coronary angioplasty. Patients are encouraged to make certain lifestyle changes after this procedure to lower their risk of coronary artery disease. Life style modifications may include exercise, quitting smoking, losing weight and reducing stress.

Risks of Coronary Angioplasty

Although rare, complications of coronary angioplasty include the following:

  • Blood clots
  • Bleeding
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Allergic reaction to contrast dye
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke

The risk of complications is higher in people older than 65, and those who have extensive heart disease and blockages in their coronary arteries, and/or chronic kidney disease.

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