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What is coronary angioplasty?

Coronary Angioplasty

Coronary angioplasty is a procedure to widen or open a blocked or narrowed coronary artery. Coronary arteries are blood vessels that supply blood to your heart muscle. Coronary angioplasty improves blood flow to your heart muscle. It is a treatment for coronary artery disease (coronary heart disease) caused by atherosclerosis. 

Atherosclerosis is a buildup of fatty deposits on coronary artery walls. The deposits harden into a substance called plaque. As plaque builds on coronary artery walls, the artery narrows and hardens. Eventually, a serious blockage can occur. This stops blood from flowing freely through the coronary artery. 

Atherosclerosis can also cause a blood clot to form. A blood clot can totally block the coronary artery. Atherosclerosis increases your risk of heart attack and other heart problems. Some problems are serious and even life threatening.

Coronary angioplasty is only one method of treating narrowed or blocked coronary arteries. Discuss all your treatment options with your doctor to understand which options are right for you.  

Types of coronary angioplasty

The types of coronary angioplasty procedures include:

  • Atherectomy involves inserting a catheter into a vessel in your groin or arm. Your doctor will guide the catheter to the coronary artery that needs treatment. He or she will scrape or drill away the plaque to open the coronary artery.
  • Balloon coronary angioplasty is a similar procedure. It involves inserting a catheter into a vessel in your groin or arm. Your doctor will feed or guide the catheter to the coronary artery that needs treatment. Your doctor will expand a balloon on the tip of the catheter to open the coronary artery.
  • Laser coronary angioplasty also involves inserting a catheter into a vessel in your groin or arm. Your doctor will insert the catheter to the coronary artery that needs treatment using a guide wire. A laser on the catheter tip destroys the plaque and opens the coronary artery.

Your doctor will look at several factors to decide which type of procedure or combination of procedures to use. This includes the location, size, shape, and hardness or softness of the plaque. 

Other procedures that may be performed

Your doctor may recommend one or more other procedures to diagnose or treat certain conditions. These include:

  • Coronary angiography makes images (called an angiogram) of your coronary arteries. It can be performed during a coronary angioplasty.
  • Minimally invasive bypass grafting makes a new route for blood to flow around narrowed coronary arteries. The new route is created from healthy vessels taken from other places in your body. You may have general anesthesia if your doctor combines this surgery with angioplasty.
  • Stenting involves inserting a metal tube (stent) inside your coronary artery and expanding it. The stent remains in place to keep the artery open after angioplasty. 
Medical Reviewers: Daphne E. Hemmings, MD, MPH Last Review Date: Jul 11, 2013

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Medical References

Angioplasty and Stenting. Massachusetts General Hospital. http://www.massgeneral.org/imaging/services/procedure.aspx?id=2265. Accessed April 30, 2013.
Angioplasty and Stenting. Society of Interventional Radiology. http://www.sirweb.org/patients/angioplasty-stent/. Accessed April 30, 2013.
Angioplasty and Vascular Stenting. American College of Radiology. http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=angioplasty. Accessed April 30, 2013.
Atherosclerosis Atherectomy. Cleveland Clinic. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/services/atherectomy/vs_atherosclerosis_atherectomy.aspx. Accessed April 30, 2013.
Cardiac Catheterization and Coronary Interventional Procedures. Cleveland Clinic. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/services/angioplasty/hic_cardiac_catheterization_and_coronary_interventional_procedures.aspx. Accessed April 30, 2013.
Coronary Angioplasty. HealthGrades. http://www.healthgrades.com/procedures/profile/Coronary_Angioplasty. Accessed April 30, 2013.
Coronary Angioplasty. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Angioplasty/Angioplasty_WhatIs.html. Accessed April 30, 2013.
What Is Coronary Angioplasty? American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@hcm/documents/downloadable/ucm_300437.pdf. Accessed April 30, 2013.

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