A coronary angioplasty is a procedure performed to improve blood flow in the arteries of the heart, by re-opening or enlarging blocked blood vessels. 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 to 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 an effective form of treatment, or after an individual has suffered from a heart attack.
The Coronary Angioplasty Procedure
Patients are often sedated but remain awake during the procedure. During the angioplasty procedure, an incision is made in the arm or groin, and a catheter is inserted. 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 to perform.
Recovery from Coronary Angioplasty
After the procedure, patients are required to stay in the hospital overnight so that their heart can be monitored. 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 to help prevent blood clots from forming. Patients are often able to return to work approximately one 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. Lifestyle modifications may include exercise, quitting smoking, losing weight and reducing stress.
Risks of Coronary Angioplasty
While a coronary angioplasty is considered a common medical procedure, complications are rare, however they may include:
- Blood clots
- Abnormal heart rhythms
- Allergic reaction to contrast dye
- Heart attack
The risk of complications is higher in people over the age of 65, people with extensive heart disease and blockages in their coronary arteries, and individuals with chronic kidney disease.