More than 15 million Americans are affected by coronary artery disease. This most common form of heart disease is attributed to atherosclerosis, the narrowing of one or more arteries that supply blood to the heart. Atherosclerosis develops when a waxy substance builds up inside the arteries, inhibiting blood flow. Over time, the blockage worsens, increasing the risk of angina and heart attack. There are currently no medications that can resolve plaque buildup in the coronary arteries. The way doctors do this is with a procedure called balloon angioplasty.
What is Balloon Angioplasty?
Balloon angioplasty is an interventional procedure that is performed to open narrowed arteries. This is achieved by inserting a long, thin tube called a catheter into affected vessels. The catheter has a balloon on its tip. Once the tube is positioned in the area of narrowing, the balloon is inflated. This compresses the soft plaque against the artery wall.
Although we are discussing the use of balloon angioplasty to address blockages in the coronary arteries, it is necessary to also state that this procedure can be performed in various scenarios. For example, the same technique may be used to open narrowed carotid arteries and reduce the risk of stroke. Other situations for which balloon angioplasty may be valuable include narrowing of the femoral artery in the leg, the iliac artery in the hip, and the aorta, the primary artery that comes from the heart.
What is a Stent?
Nearly 80% of people who undergo the balloon angioplasty procedure also receive a stent. A stent is a metal, mesh-like device that is placed inside of the artery to reinstate its scaffold. Because the artery may be weak due to plaque accumulation, the stent is placed to keep it from collapsing. Having the stent means that blood flow to the heart is sustained and angina pain can be reduced.
The Balloon Angioplasty Procedure
Balloon angioplasty may take between 1 and 2 hours. Patients do not need general anesthesia. They are kept comfortable with monitored sedation, so they are calm but awake. To insert the catheter, the surgeon makes a small incision in the arm or the groin. The catheter is advanced to areas of the artery that are highlighted by contrast dye. Highlighting indicates areas of narrowing. Once in place, the balloon is inflated and then deflated. Patients may remain in the hospital overnight.
At home after balloon angioplasty, patients should not drive, smoke, or bathe for two days. During this time, walking and standing should be kept to a minimum. Patients who receive stents can resume more strenuous activity after 30 days.
For more information regarding balloon angioplasty or to schedule your visit to our Laurel, MD office, call (855) 803-MIVC (6482).