Angioplasty is a procedure done to open the narrow or blocked arteries. It is most often performed to open blocked coronary (heart) arteries. The procedure done to open blocked coronary (heart) arteries is known as coronary angioplasty. It helps to restore blood flow to the heart muscle.
How do the coronary arteries get blocked?
Coronary arteries become narrow or get blocked due to plaque build-up inside them. With age, a waxy substance called plaque builds up inside the arteries. This condition is called atherosclerosis. Plaque build up can occur in any artery in the body. When the coronary arteries are affected, the condition is called coronary heart disease (CHD) or coronary artery disease. The coronary arteries provide oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle. The heart muscle needs a constant supply of oxygen-rich blood to function appropriately. Any interruption in the blood supply can cause damage to the heart muscle.
Plaque contains fat, cholesterol, calcium and other elements present in the blood. It builds-up slowly in the heart arteries over many years. The plaque overtime hardens and narrows the coronary arteries. Depending on the severity of narrowing, you may or may not have symptoms of angina (chest pain or discomfort). In some cases, the plaque ruptures (break open) and causes a blood clot to form on the surface of the plaque in the artery. If the clot is big, it can completely block blood flow through the artery and cause heart attack.
What is angioplasty?
Angioplasty is done to restore blood flow to the heart. In this procedure, a thin, flexible catheter (tube) with a balloon at its tip is inserted into the affected artery. The catheter is usually threaded through a blood vessel in the groin into the affected artery. After the catheter is in place, the balloon is inflated. This compresses the plaque in the artery against the wall and restores blood flow through the artery.
[Read: Follow-up after Angioplasty]
The procedure can be done to improve symptoms of CHD such as angina or in case of heart attack. When it is done immediately after a heart attack it can limit the amount of damage to heart muscles. A major factor, which influences the amount of damage to heart muscle in heart attack, is time between injury and treatment. The time needed to perform the procedure can vary from 30 minutes to three hours (depends on the technical difficulty of the case and the number of blockages).
When the procedure is done by an experienced cardiologist at a good facility, it is a safe procedure. According to studies, the estimated risk of death during an angioplasty is usually less than 1% and less than 2% may need emergency bypass surgery.
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