A balloon angioplasty is a minimally invasive procedure used to treat coronary artery disease and other heart conditions, by restoring blood flow through an artery. It helps to enlarge blocked blood vessels that may have developed as a result of of atherosclerosis, a condition when plaque builds up on the inner walls of the arteries and causes them to harden and narrow. A balloon angioplasty involves the insertion of a tiny balloon that is inflated to open and widen the artery, often combined with the insertion of a stent, that helps to keep the artery open, so it will not narrow again in the future. The stent then remains in the artery, holding it open to improve blood flow to the heart.
If invasive angiography (see below) shows blockages in the blood vessels to the heart (coronary arteries) which would cause a heart attack if not treated, the physician will advance small catheters with a balloon tip to the heart and inflate the balloon inside the blocked blood vessel to open the blocked blood vessel. This study is done with the patient in a twilight state and does not hurt. It is frequently followed by placement of a small metal scaffold (stent). (see below)
Candidates for a Balloon Angioplasty
A balloon angioplasty may be recommended for people with blockages in the arteries of their heart, especially if they are experiencing chest pain and discomfort. It may also be performed if lifestyle changes and medication have not been an effective form of treatment for coronary conditions, or after an individual has suffered from a heart attack.
The Balloon Angioplasty Procedure
Patients are often sedated but remain awake during the procedure. An incision is made in the arm or groin, and a catheter is inserted. A contrast dye is injected through the catheter, to highlight the clogged areas during the procedure. A tube with a deflated balloon is inserted through the catheter to the blockage. The balloon is inflated to widen the artery, pushing the plaque aside allowing the blood to flow through smoothly. To hold the artery open and prevent it from narrowing again, a wire mesh tube called a stent may be inserted. Some stents are coated with medication that is slowly released into the arteries to help prevent scar tissue from forming and blocking the artery. The balloon angioplasty takes, on average, 1 to 2 hours to perform.
Recovery from Balloon Angioplasty
After a balloon angioplasty, most patients stay overnight in the hospital for monitoring. Patients may experience pain or discomfort at the site where the catheter was inserted. Medication may be prescribed to help prevent blood clots from forming. Strenuous activities should be avoided for a few days following the procedure and most patients can return to work or regular activities within one week.
Complications of Balloon Angioplasty
While it is generally considered a safe procedure, there are risks associated with balloon angioplasty which include: blood clots, excessive bleeding or reoccurrence of stenosis, the narrowing of the blood vessel restricting blood flow. Although rare, additional risks may also include heart attack, stroke, kidney problems or abnormal heart rhythms.