Angioplasty is a minimally invasive procedure used to widen narrowed or blocked arteries.

Your arteries can become blocked up over time from deposits of plaque — the buildup of fat, cholesterol, cells, and other substances.

This condition is called atherosclerosis, and it can affect any artery in the body.

Why the Procedure Is Done

Angioplasty is often used to restore blood flow to the heart in people who have coronary arteries affected by atherosclerosis, a condition called coronary heart disease (CHD), or coronary artery disease.

For these people, coronary angioplasty (also known as percutaneous coronary intervention) may help to reduce heart muscle damage after a heart attack, reduce the risk of heart attacks and death, and improve certain CHD symptoms, such as angina (chest pain) and shortness of breath, notes Mayo Clinic.

Angioplasty may also be used to help with other issues, including:

  • Atherosclerosis in the legs or arms, also known as peripheral artery disease, per Johns Hopkins Medicine
  • Renal vascular hypertension, or high blood pressure caused by the narrowing of the kidney arteries, usually from atherosclerosis, per NYU Langone Health
  • Carotid artery stenosis, in which the neck arteries supplying blood to the brain become narrowed; carotid angioplasty is often performed to prevent or treat strokes, per Mayo Clinic
Angioplasty is a treatment but not a cure for atherosclerosis; it’s possible for your arteries to narrow again after the procedure, notes MedlinePlus.

Angioplasty Procedure

Before conducting an angioplasty, your doctor will need to locate the narrowed or blocked passages in your arteries through an angiogram.

During an angiogram, a small tube called a catheter will be inserted into an artery (usually in your groin or arm) and then threaded to the problematic area, such as the coronary arteries.

Then a special dye, which shows up on X-ray images, will be injected into your body through the catheter, allowing your doctor to see the blood flow in your arteries, according to MedlinePlus.

Next, during the angioplasty, a catheter with a balloon on its tip will be inserted and threaded to the blocked artery.

The balloon will be expanded to flatten the plaque against the artery wall and improve blood flow, and then deflated and removed.

In most cases of coronary angioplasty a stent is also placed. A stent is a small wire mesh tube which is inserted into the artery and stays in the body permanently to keep the arteries open after the catheter is removed, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
During angioplasty, you’ll get local (not general) anesthesia. Blood-thinning medicines to prevent a blood clot from forming may also be administered through an IV.

Angioplasty Recovery

After the procedure, you’ll recover for at least a few hours in the hospital. You may need to stay overnight, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.Many people can return to work within a week, notes MedlinePlus.
You may experience bruising and soreness, and possibly bleeding, in the area where the catheters were inserted.

Angioplasty Risks

Though uncommon, some serious complications can occur from a coronary angioplasty, including:
  • Blood vessel damage and bleeding
  • Allergic reactions or kidney damage from dye used during the procedure (especially if you already have kidney problems)
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke (in rare cases)
  • Artery collapse
  • Angina
  • Scar tissue and blood clots around stents

After an Angioplasty

While successful angioplasty improves blood flow in your arteries, it doesn’t fix the underlying condition — atherosclerosis — that’s causing the buildup in your arteries. To reduce the risk of further blockage in your arteries, your doctor will likely recommend that you:
  • Stick to a heart-healthy diet low in saturated fat
  • Quit smoking (if you haven’t already)
  • Exercise regularly
  • Reduce stress
And you may be prescribed medication to help control your blood pressure or cholesterol.

Additional reporting by Deborah Shapiro.

Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking

  • Coronary Angioplasty and Stents. Mayo Clinic. November 15, 2019.
  • Renal Artery Stenosis in Adults. NYU Langone Health.
  • Carotid Angioplasty and Stenting. Mayo Clinic. July 1, 2020.
  • Angioplasty and Stent Placement — Heart. MedlinePlus. June 25, 2020.
  • Coronary Angiography. MedlinePlus. January 27, 2020.
  • Cardiac Catheterization and Coronary Angioplasty and Stent. Cleveland Clinic. May 14, 2019.
  • Percutaneous Coronary Intervention. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
  • Angioplasty. MedlinePlus. March 6, 2017.
  • Percutaneous Transluminal Angioplasty. Johns Hopkins Medicine.


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