A coronary angioplasty is a procedure used to widen blocked or narrowed coronary arteries (the main blood vessels supplying the heart).
The term “angioplasty” means using a balloon to stretch open a narrowed or blocked artery. However, most modern angioplasty procedures also involve inserting a short wire-mesh tube, called a stent, into the artery during the procedure. The stent is left in place permanently to allow blood to flow more freely. Coronary Angioplasty is sometimes known as Percutaneous Transluminal Coronary Angioplasty (PTCA). The combination of coronary angioplasty with stenting is usually referred to as Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PCI).
When a coronary angioplasty is used
Like all organs in the body, the heart needs a constant supply of blood. This is supplied by the coronary arteries. In older people, these arteries can become narrowed and hardened (known as atherosclerosis), which can cause coronary heart disease. If the flow of blood to the heart becomes restricted, it can lead to chest pain known as angina, which is usually triggered by physical activity or stress. While angina can often be treated with medication, a coronary angioplasty may be required to restore the blood supply to the heart in severe cases where medication is ineffective. Coronary angioplasties are also often used as an emergency treatment after a heart attack.
What are the benefits of a coronary angioplasty?
In most cases, the blood flow through the coronary arteries improves after an Angioplasty. Many people find their symptoms get significantly better and they’re able to do more than they could before the procedure. If you’ve had a heart attack, an angioplasty can increase your chances of surviving more than clot-busting medication (thrombolysis). The procedure can also reduce your chances of having another heart attack in the future.
How a coronary angioplasty is performed
A coronary angioplasty is performed using local anaesthetic, which means you’ll be awake while the procedure is carried out and the procedure is completely pain free.
A thin flexible tube called a catheter will be inserted into one of your arteries. This is guided to the affected coronary artery using an X-ray video. When the catheter is in place, a thin wire is guided down the length of the affected coronary artery, delivering a small balloon to the affected section of artery. This is then inflated to widen the artery, squashing fatty deposits against the artery wall so blood can flow through it more freely when the deflated balloon is removed.
If a stent is being used, this will be around the balloon before it’s inserted. The stent will expand when the balloon is inflated and remains in place when the balloon is deflated and removed. A coronary angioplasty usually takes between 20 to 30 minutes. If you’re being treated for angina, you’ll normally be able to go home later the same day or the day after you have the procedure. You’ll need to avoid heavy lifting, strenuous activities and driving for at least a week. If you’ve been admitted to hospital following a heart attack, you may need to stay in hospital for several days after the angioplasty procedure before going home.