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|This narrated animation shows how balloon angioplasty opens blocked blood vessels. Copyright 2011 Boston Scientific Corporation or its affiliates. All rights reserved. Used with permission of Boston Scientific Corporation.
Angioplasty is a treatment for cardiovascular disease. In people with heart disease, a fatty substance called plaque gradually builds up in arteries throughout your body. It causes problems when the build-up is so great that it slows or stops the flow of blood through the arteries. Plaque that ruptures and breaks free, or a blood clot inside the artery, can clog an artery, potentially preventing vital organs and other parts of the body from getting the oxygen they need to work.
During angioplasty, a specialist, such as an interventional cardiologist, opens the clogged or blocked artery with the help of very thin tube (a catheter) that is threaded through a blood vessel to the site of a blockage. The catheter has a balloon attached that expands to push away the material that is causing the blockage. The balloon is deflated and it is removed with the catheter, leaving behind an open blood vessel. Because the procedure is performed via a small incision in the groin or wrist (rather than requiring major surgery), it is considered a minimally invasive way to treat cardiovascular disease and restore the flow of blood to the heart, brain, legs or kidneys. You can learn more about what happens during an angioplasty procedure here.
Treating Heart Attacks and Angina with Angioplasty & Stenting
You can have angioplasty in one or more arteries in your body. Angioplasty and stenting in a heart (coronary) artery can be effective in both emergency situations and as elective procedures.
Acute coronary syndrome (ACS), unstable angina, and heart attack are all terms that describe an emergency situation where the heart is not receiving the oxygen-rich blood it needs to function. Without immediate treatment, such as angioplasty and stenting, to restore the flow of blood, the heart can suffer severe damage or stop working altogether.
Stable angina is another condition where clogged or blocked arteries affect the heart muscle. Stable angina is not an emergency. It causes discomfort and can interfere with your daily activities, but your heart is not in immediate danger. Angioplasty and stenting are also used to treat stable angina but it is not the only option and because it is elective, you can take your time to consider other options.
“PCI”—What Does It Mean?
You might hear doctors and other healthcare providers refer to angioplasty and stenting in the coronary arteries as “PCI.” PCI stands for percutaneous coronary intervention. It is a procedure (intervention) performed in one or more arteries to the heart (coronary) that is performed through a puncture or small incision in the skin (percutaneous) rather than surgery.
Treating Stroke, Kidney (Renal) Artery Disease and Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) with Angioplasty and Stenting
Angioplasty and stenting can also be used to treat plaque build-up in other arteries of the body. The carotid arteries, which deliver blood to the brain, may undergo stenting to prevent stroke. Angioplasty and stenting can also be used and to restore blood flow to the kidneys, arms and legs. The procedure is appropriate for some patients who have kidney (renal) artery disease or peripheral artery disease (PAD).
Preventing Restenosis with Stents
To keep the artery from become re-blocked with plaque (called restenosis), your doctor may insert a metal, mesh tube called a stent. The stent is expanded into place to prop open the artery. Without a stent, an artery cleared by angioplasty could collapse, once again cutting off blood flow.
Click here to learn more about where angioplasty and stenting procedures are performed, and here to help you decide if angioplasty and stenting is the right treatment for you.