Coronary Angioplasty

What is coronary angioplasty?

Coronary angioplasty is a procedure in which a cardiologist uses different techniques to open a narrowed or blocked artery in the heart. Coronary angioplasty is known by several names, including:

  • coronary artery angioplasty
  • balloon angioplasty
  • percutaneous transluminal angioplasty
  • percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA)

Why is coronary angioplasty performed?

Coronary angioplasty is performed to restore blood flow to the heart to improve the heart’s function and its ability to pump blood to the rest of the body.

Coronary angioplasty is the preferred method of treating blockage in the coronary arteries if it can be done safety and effectively because it is a less invasive procedure that has a shorter recovery time than open heart surgery. Here are some reasons cardiologists perform coronary angioplasty:

  • To improve symptoms of heart disease, such as chest pain and shortness of breath.
  • To reduce damage to the heart muscle during or after a heart attack.
  • To reduce the risk of dying from heart disease and events.

How is coronary angioplasty performed?

Angioplasty is a minimally invasive procedure to open blocked coronary arteries. A nurse will prepare you for the procedure and place an IV. After this:

  • The cardiologist will numb the area that will be used to access the artery. A short tube, called a sheath, (like a very large IV) will be placed in the artery for the doctor to work through.
  • Catheters and wires are placed through the sheath to get to the heart, where contrast dye will be injected to visualize the vessels.
  • Once a blockage is visualized through dye injection on x-ray screens, balloons and stents will be used to open the blockage.
  • Balloon inflation in the artery pushes plaque to the vessel walls so blood can flow through more easily. The balloon will then be removed. 
  • Often a stent is also placed. A stent is a wire mesh tube that helps to keep a blood vessel open by pressing against blood vessel walls. Unlike the balloon, the stent is permanent and becomes a part of the vessel wall which is called percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI). 
  • After a balloon and/or stent is used, all catheters and wires will be removed from the heart. Sheath (short tube) removal may occur in the procedure room or recovery room.

After the procedure, normal blood flow through that artery should return, allowing your heart to receive the amount of blood it requires to function

How will you know if angioplasty is right for you?

The decision to have a cardiac catheterization isn’t an easy one. Depending on the severity of your symptoms and the extent of your blockage or narrowing, your cardiologist will discuss options that range from medication and lifestyle changes to angioplasty, PCI or open heart surgery. Before you decide to move forward with intervention, talk to at least one cardiologist. Ask questions about your risk and what types of benefits you’ll likely experience. Talk about what you can expect before, during, and after the procedure. Be realistic with yourself about which lifestyle changes you can commit to, and ask your doctor about whether lifestyle changes and medication alone might be as beneficial for you as angioplasty.

Benefits of angioplasty

Angioplasty can be a lifesaving procedure. It helps keep your artery open, which improves blood flow through the heart. Improved blood flow helps prevent additional heart damage and can prevent future heart attacks. It may also help improve symptoms of heart disease, such as chest pain and shortness of breath.

Coronary angioplasty recovery expectations

Recovery from angioplasty is typically much faster than recovery from heart bypass surgery. You will likely be discharged from the hospital within one to two days. You may be cleared to return to work within a week after you leave the hospital.

Once your home, you may have some bruising near the incision site where the catheter was inserted. You may also have mild pain or soreness at the site. It’s common for people to feel fatigued and tired after surgery, so you may be extra sleepy as well.

After the procedure, make sure you take it easy for about a week. Don’t do any strenuous activities, including lifting, pushing, or pulling heavy objects. Talk to your doctor about what your activity restrictions are and when you can expect to return to your normal everyday activities. Discharge instructions will also include information that are personal to your procedure. 

If at any time you experience chest pain, fatigue or shortness of breath, take a break. If chest pain lasts more than 15 minutes, call 911 or seek immediate care at an emergency room.

When you return home, it’s important that you take all your medications as prescribed and follow all discharge instructions and doctor recommendations. To get the most out of your procedure, work toward adopting a healthier lifestyle. A healthy diet, regular exercise and other lifestyle changes will help your recovery and reduce your chances of having a heart attack or stroke. Your doctor may also recommend a cardiac rehabilitation program to improve your heart health and enhance the work you do on your own.

Potential complications

Cardiologists perform more than one million angioplasty procedures on people in the United States every year. Serious complications are rare, but they are possible even with the best doctors at the best hospitals.

Potential complications include:

  • re-narrowing or re-stenosis
  • formation of blood clots
  • bleeding at the wound site and in the artery
  • damage to the artery from the catheter
  • an allergic reaction to the dye used to help visualize the arteries
  • heart attack or stroke
  • kidney damage
  • the need for emergency bypass surgery if severe blockages are found

Types of doctors that perform coronary angioplasty procedures

The doctors who perform angioplasty with heart stent placement include heart surgeons, cardiovascular surgeons, cardiothoracic surgeons and interventional cardiologists.

The Beaumont difference

Beaumont is a world leader in heart innovation. Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak has been ranked as one of the top cardiac and heart surgery programs in the nation for 22 consecutive years. Our heart and vascular teams provide the most advanced treatment options, including minimally invasive heart surgery. We have specialized heart care centers throughout Metro Detroit.

Start your search at Beaumont. Find a Beaumont heart surgeon, interventional cardiologist, cardiothoracic surgeon, or cardiovascular surgeon near you.