Coronary angioplasty, also called percutaneous coronary intervention, is a procedure used to open clogged heart arteries. Angioplasty involves temporarily inserting and inflating a tiny balloon where your artery is clogged to help widen the artery.

Angioplasty is often combined with the permanent placement of a small wire mesh tube called a stent to help keep the artery open and decrease its chance of narrowing again. Some stents are coated with medication to help keep your artery open (drug-eluting stents), while others are not (bare-metal stents).

Angioplasty can improve symptoms of blocked arteries, such as chest pain and shortness of breath and can also be used during a heart attack to quickly open a blocked artery and reduce the amount of damage to the heart.

HOW IS CORONARY ANGIOPLASTY PERFORMED?

Your cardiologist will insert a small tube into an artery leading to your heart either in the groin area or the wrist. This enables the introduction of different devices that may be needed during the angioplasty.

Next, a dye is injected into the artery in a procedure known as a coronary angiography to allow the cardiologist to see what your heart arteries look like and where there may be narrowing. X-rays are taken so your cardiologist can see the arteries immediately on the display due to the dye and estimate the severity of the narrowing.

If the narrowing is considered severe enough to compromise the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart muscle, angioplasty is performed. This is usually done by first introducing a very fine wire (similar to the thickness of your hair) across the narrowing. A balloon can then be brought to the narrowing and the artery stretched open. It is common then to place a fine wire mesh (stent) into the stretched area to ensure that the narrowed portion of the artery remains open.

WHAT ARE THE RISKS?

The angiography and angioplasty procedures are both low risk procedures but as with any surgery, there are risks of complications in less than 1% of cases. These can include heart attack, stroke, abnormal heart rhythms, damage to the arteries, allergic reaction to the dye, kidney damage and in rare occasions, death.

Longer term complications include:

    • a renarrowing of the artery within a year, which will require a repeat procedure
    • clots forming in the stent within the first month, which can cause a heart attack. Talk to your cardiologist about the risks of using a drug-coated stent as opposed to an uncoated one.