Angioplasty, also known as percutaneous coronary intervention, or PCI, is a minimally invasive procedure performed to restore blood flow to the heart muscle when the coronary arteries are partially or entirely blocked. During an angioplasty, a catheter with either a balloon or laser tip is routed to the site of the blockage to clear the artery.
Why Do You Need Angioplasty?
The coronary arteries are responsible for carrying blood and oxygen to the heart muscle. When those arteries become blocked, either partially or entirely, by plaque or a blood clot, blood flow is disrupted and your heart doesn’t get the enriched oxygen it needs to pump effectively.
In some cases, blocked arteries are discovered as part of routine diagnostic testing, but in other cases, a blockage may be discovered when a patient experiences chest pain and is in an emergency setting.
Getting Ready for Angioplasty
Angioplasty can be performed as an elective (scheduled) procedure when noninvasive testing reveals probable heart disease, or it can be done on an emergency basis to clear blockages during a heart attack.
Prior to elective angioplasty, your doctor will give you specific instructions about when you’ll need to stop eating or drinking before arriving at the hospital. You may have a blood test that provides information about how fast your blood clots, and you may also get a sedative to help you relax before the procedure.
When angioplasty is performed on an emergency basis, hospitals try to perform the procedure within a 90-minute window after a patient arrives at a hospital with chest pain and other symptoms. Because of this, there really aren’t any steps to take to prepare for emergency angioplasty.
\What to Expect During Angioplasty
During angioplasty, the arteries in your heart will be reopened. You will be awake but sedated during the procedure, which is performed in a cardiac catheterization lab.
To begin the procedure, your physician will insert a catheter into an artery and then guide the catheter up and into the blocked coronary artery. The physician uses an X-ray and dye to properly visualize the arteries and safely guide the catheter into place.
Once the blockage is reached, your physician will use one of two primary methods to remove the blockage. In one method, a balloon will be inflated at the tip of the catheter, which pushes the plaque causing the blockage to the side, while in the other method, a laser is used to dissolve the plaque.
If the blockage in your coronary artery is severe — typically when at least 70% of the artery is blocked — your physician will also likely place a stent in the artery during the angioplasty. A stent, which is made of mesh, holds the artery open and ensures that it does not become blocked again.
Recovering From Angioplasty
Following angioplasty, you will need to remain in the hospital for observation at least overnight. In cases where a stent is placed, you may require a longer hospital stay.
Most people are able to return to work and normal activities within a week or so, but your physician will provide individualized guidance about when it’s safe for you to resume normal daily activities.
Your post-angioplasty care will also include education and guidance related to heart-healthy habits. Practicing healthy lifestyle habits, including regular exercise and a diet low in saturated fat, will help limit the risk of additional blockages in the future.