Angioplasty is a minimally invasive procedure that relieves the narrowing and obstruction of the arteries that supply blood to the heart. Known as coronary arteries, these blood vessels narrow when fat and cholesterol deposits accumulate on the inside the arterial walls and form plaque. This disease process is called atherosclerosis.
Balloon angioplasty, or Percutaneous Transluminal Coronary Angioplasty (PTCA), involves inserting an empty, collapsed balloon through a small cut in the groin, wrist, or elbow, and guiding it through the arteries to the point of blockage. Once positioned, this balloon catheter is inflated to enlarge the narrowed coronary artery.
Cardiac angioplasty is not considered a type of surgery, and is used as an alternative to open heart surgery in less severe cases. When successful, balloon angioplasty is a minimally invasive coronary intervention procedure that can relieve chest pain of angina, improve the prognosis of individuals with unstable angina, and minimize or even prevent a heart attack without requiring open-heart Coronary Artery Bypass Graft (CABG) surgery.
Patients will have to undergo a routine blood test and an electrocardiogram to determine their suitability for the cardiac procedure.
The procedure begins with your heart doctor injecting local anaesthesia into the area where the balloon catheter is to be inserted, usually the groin, wrist, or elbow. Dye will then be injected into your body via a thin plastic tube called a sheath and an x-ray taken to visualise the heart and its coronary arteries—this is called a coronary angiography. This will enable your heart specialist to identify the treatable blockages as it moves through the heart’s chambers, valves, and major vessels.
A balloon catheter will then be inserted into your blood vessel and advanced to the point of blockage. Once positioned, the balloon will be inflated for a few seconds to compress the blockage against the artery wall. This will widen or open the blocked vessel and restore sufficient blood flow to the heart. The balloon will then be deflated. Your doctor might repeat this process several times, each time inflating the balloon progressively larger to widen the arterial passage so that blood may flow uninhibited. This treatment may be repeated at each blocked site identified in the coronary arteries. A stent is commonly placed at each site where the artery was narrowed or closed in order to keep it open. This is a small metal mesh tube that functions as a scaffold to provide support inside your coronary artery.
Please note that the patient will be awake throughout the procedure, although pain medicine will be given as needed.
Patients typically take about a week to recover from cardiac angioplasty. However, non-strenuous activities may be resumed once the procedure is completed.
If a stent was placed during the angioplasty procedure, a patient would need to take platelet-blocking medications to reduce the likelihood of a blood clot forming near the newly implanted stent.
While a coronary angioplasty will reopen an obstructed artery, the procedure will not cure coronary artery disease. Ultimately, lifestyle factors that can worsen this heart disease, such as smoking and diet, will still need to be modified, while incorporating exercise into one’s lifestyle will also definitely improve cardiac health.