A coronary angioplasty is a procedure used to widen blocked or narrowed coronary arteries.
A short wire-mesh tube, called a stent, is inserted into an artery to allow blood to flow more freely through it.
Coronary angioplasty is sometimes known as percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA) or percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI).
Why is a coronary angioplasty necessary?
Like all organs in the body, the heart needs a constant supply of blood. This is supplied by two large blood vessels called the left and right coronary arteries. In older people, these arteries can become narrowed and hardened. This is known as atherosclerosis.
Hardening of the coronary arteries can restrict the flow of blood to the heart, which can lead to angina.
The most common symptom of angina is chest pain, which is usually triggered by physical activity. While many cases of angina can be treated with medication, a coronary angioplasty may be required to restore the blood supply to the heart in severe angina.
Coronary angioplasties are also often used as an emergency treatment after a heart attack.
Read more information about why a coronary angioplasty is necessary.
What are the benefits of a coronary angioplasty?
If you have angina, an angioplasty can:
- relieve your pain
- reduce your need for angina medication
- ease symptoms such as breathlessness
- enable you to be more active
- improve your ability to do everyday activities, such as climbing stairs and walking any distance
- make you feel generally better so you're more able to do the things you want to do, such as going to work and enjoying a social life
If you've had a heart attack, an angioplasty can:
- increase your chances of surviving by one-third more than clot-busting treatment (thrombolysis) can
- reduce your chances of having another heart attack
How is it performed?
You may have a pre-assessment of your health a few days before the operation. This may involve blood tests and a general health check. Being as fit as you can be before the procedure can help your recovery from a coronary angioplasty.
During an angioplasty, a flexible tube called a catheter is used to insert a mesh tube, known as a stent, into the coronary artery.
A small balloon is inflated to open the stent, which pushes against the artery walls. This widens the artery, squashing fatty deposits against the artery wall so that blood can flow through it more freely.
The procedure usually takes around 30 minutes, but it can take longer depending on how many sections of your artery need treatment. You will normally be able to go home the day after a coronary angioplasty. You will need to avoid driving for around a week.
Read more information about what happens during a coronary angioplasty.
How safe is a coronary angioplasty?
A coronary angioplasty is one of the most common types of treatment for the heart. Over 61,000 procedures are performed in England each year. Coronary angioplasties are most commonly performed in people who are 65 years of age or older as they are more likely to have angina.
A coronary angioplasty does not involve making major incisions in the body and is usually carried out safely in most people. Doctors refer to this as a minimally invasive form of treatment.
The risk of complications from a coronary angioplasty varies depending on individual circumstances. The risk increases slightly with age and if you have certain conditions. If you have an unrelated serious health condition, such as cancer or liver failure, the risks of treatment may outweigh the benefits.
Are there any alternatives?
A coronary angioplasty may not be technically possible if your arteries are different from normal, for example if there are too many narrow sections.