Angioplasty is a procedure to improve blood flow through narrowed or blocked arteries of the heart. If tests show that you have narrowed arteries, angioplasty can relieve your chest pain and keep your arteries from narrowing further. It also can help prevent heart attack and improve your overall quality of life. Sometimes, doctors use angioplasty as an emergency treatment for heart attack. This procedure can, in some cases, restore blood flow better than clot-busting drugs. An angioplasty also can limit damage to the heart muscle and improve survival after a heart attack.
Your doctor has two options for this procedure:
Using a catheter with a balloon attached, your doctor threads it to where the coronary arteries branch off to the heart. Once the catheter is positioned over the blockage, your interventional cardiologist inflates the tiny balloon. The pressure causes the plaque blocking the artery to split and compress, molding it against the artery wall and restoring blood flow. Once the blockage is cleared, the physician deflates the balloon and removes the catheter.
Often, a mesh tube called a stent is placed in the artery during the procedure. When the balloon inflates, the stent expands, supporting the artery wall and reducing the chances of the artery becoming blocked again. Sometimes a drug-eluting stent is used to release medications into your artery and prevent your artery from becoming blocked with scar tissue.
Some blockages are too long or too complicated for the balloon technique to be effective. In this case, your doctor may opt to use laser angioplasty. The laser directs a cool beam toward the blockage through a catheter in the coronary artery. The laser beam vaporizes the plaque causing the blockage, changing it to gases and water. A balloon angioplasty may follow laser angioplasty.