Balloon angioplasty

Published: Jun. 13, 2007 at 2:48 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 14, 2007 at 5:57 PM CDT
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What is balloon angioplasty?

A balloon angioplasty opens blocked blood vessels by pressing plaque against the artery wall. It is a procedure that uses local numbing. General anesthesia usually is not needed.

This procedure opens the artery and allows blood to flow more freely, which can reduce your:

  • Risk of heart attack- in the coronary arteries
  • Level of pain in your arms and legs- in the peripheral arteries
  • Risk of stroke- in the carotid arteries

How is the procedure done?

A balloon angioplasty typically begins with a catheterization. During a catheterization, a small, flexible tube called a catheter is inserted through a blood vessel in your groin (or sometimes your arm). Your doctor gently "steers" the catheter toward your blocked vessel. Dye put in through the catheter allows your blood vessels to show up on the monitor- almost like roads on a map. This part of the procedure is called angiogram. The catheterization and angiogram are typically part of the procedure. Once there is a clear image of the blockage, your doctor begins the angioplasty.

During the angioplasty, the doctor uses a special catheter with a small balloon on the end. The doctor inflates the balloon near the blockage in your artery. The inflated balloon presses the plaque against the artery wall, allowing for better blood flow.

After the balloon angioplasty, your doctor may use another catheter to implant a stent.

After the balloon angioplasty, your doctor may use another catheter to implant a stent. A stent is a tiny mesh tube that holds your artery open. The stent may help prevent your artery from becoming blocked again.

What can I expect?

Usually, you are told not to eat or drink anything for a number of hours before your procedure. Your procedure will be performed in a "cath lab". You lie on an exam table and an intravenous (IV) line is put into your arm. The IV delivers fluids and medications during the procedure. The medication makes you groggy, but not unconscious.

The doctor makes a small incision for the catheter. The area will be numbed so you shouldn't feel pain, but you may feel some pressure as the catheter is inserted. During the angioplasty, your doctor or nurse might ask you question-to make sure you are not feeling pain, for instance. You may be in the hospital overnight. But most people recover fairly quickly.