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A coronary angioplasty is a procedure to open an artery in the heart that has become narrowed. This allows better blood flow through the artery and to the heart muscle. It is often done with a balloon that is passed through a special catheter (tube).
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Atherosclerosis is a disease of the arteries. Cholesterol and fatty deposits build up on the walls of the arteries. This restricts blood flow. When this buildup happens in the heart, it may lead to a heart attack. Lifestyle changes and medications can be used to treat atherosclerosis. If they are not enough, an angioplasty may be done.
If you are planning to have an angioplasty, your doctor will review a list of possible complications which may include:
Some factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
Your doctor will likely do the following.
In the days leading up to your procedure:
Local anesthetic will be given. It will numb the area of the groin or arm where the catheter will be inserted. You will also be given sedation and pain medication through an IV. This will help to keep you comfortable during the procedure.
The area of the groin or arm where the catheter will be inserted will be shaved, cleaned, and numbed. A needle will be inserted into the artery. You will receive blood-thinning medications during the procedure. A wire will be passed through the needle and into the artery. The wire will be guided through until it reaches the blocked artery in the heart. A soft, flexible catheter tube will then be slipped over the wire and threaded up to the blockage.
The doctor will be taking x-rays during the procedure to view the wire and catheter locations. Dye will be injected into the arteries of the heart. This will provide a better view of the arteries and blockages.
After the blockage is reached, a small balloon at the tip of the catheter will be rapidly inflated and deflated. This will stretch the artery open. The deflated balloon, catheter, and wire will be removed.
A small mesh tube called a stent may also be inserted into the artery where there was a narrowing. A stent acts to keep the artery open by providing support inside it.
After the procedure is done and the blood-thinning medications have worn off, the catheter will be removed. Pressure will be applied for 20-30 minutes to control bleeding.
A bandage will be placed over the groin or arm.
30 minutes to three hours
The anesthetic should numb the area where the catheter is inserted. You may feel a burning sensation when the anesthesia is given. You may also feel pressure when the catheters are moved. Some people have a flushed feeling or nausea when the dye is injected. You may feel some chest pain during inflation of the balloon.
The usual length of stay is overnight. If the catheter is inserted in your arm or wrist, you may be able to go home the same day. Speak to your doctor to see if this is an option for you.
You will likely need to lie still and flat on your back for a period of time. A pressure dressing may be placed over the area where the catheter was inserted. This will help prevent bleeding. Or, a vascular closure device may be used to seal the site. This will allow earlier movement and hospital discharge. It is important to follow directions.
Sometimes the procedure is not successful or the artery narrows again. You may require repeat angioplasty or coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG).
After you leave the hospital, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:
In case of an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Heart Association
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Public Health Agency of Canada
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
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Accessed September 15, 2014.
Smith SC, Dove JT, Jacobs AK, et al. ACC/AHA guidelines of percutaneous coronary interventions. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2001;37:2215.
What is percutaneous coronary intervention? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at:
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Updated August 28, 2014. Accessed September 15, 2014.
Last reviewed August 2014 by Michael J. Fucci, DO
Last Updated: 9/15/2014