What Is Coronary Angioplasty?

Coronary angioplasty is a medical procedure during which narrowed arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle are widened, to allow for improved flow of blood through these arteries to the heart, without the need for open heart surgery.

The purpose of angioplasty is to widen narrowed or blocked arteries, so that enough blood can get to the heart to deliver the oxygen it needs to function properly.

Angioplasty is designed to relieve the chest pain a person usually feels when the heart is not getting enough blood and oxygen. A successful angioplasty will improve symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath, and may improve survival in a limited number of individuals.

Nice To Know:

Coronory is the latin word for ‘crown’. The arteries that supply the heart muscle with blood are known as the coronary arteries since they surround the heart like a crown. “Angio” is the latin word for vessel and “plasty” means repair.

Arteries become narrowed by a build-up of fat and cholesterol called plaque (pronounced “plack”) and is a sign ofcoronary artery disease. (See Below)

In an angioplasty:

  • A specially trained doctor inserts a long, narrow tube (called a catheter) through a small cut in the thigh or the arm.
  • The doctor threads the catheter through blood vessels leading to the heart until it reaches the narrowed part of the artery.
  • The doctor positions a tiny balloon that is attached to the tip of the catheter right at site of the narrowing, and then inflates it with air. The pressure of the balloon flattens the plaque and allows the artery to open wider.
  • Often, a tiny wire tube called a stent is left inside the artery to hold it open.

Sometimes, instead of flattening open the plaque with a balloon, other angioplasty methods are used:

  • Atherectomy is a form of angioplasty that uses tiny blades or a drill-like tip on the end of the catheter to cut away or drill through the plaque.
  • Laser angioplasty uses laser energy to destroy plaque.

About Coronary Heart Disease

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common form of heart disease.

Coronary heart disease develops when one or more of the coronary arteries that supply the blood to the heart become narrower than they used to be, due to the buildup of cholesterol and other substances in the wall of the artery, affecting the blood flow to the heart muscle. Without an adequate blood supply, heart muscle tissue can be damaged.

Deposits of cholesterol and other fat-like substances can build up in the inner lining of these blood vessels and become coated with scar tissue, forming a cholesterol-rich bump in the blood vessel wall known asplaque. Plaque buildup narrows and hardens the blood vessel, a process called atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.

Eventually these plaque deposits can build up to significantly reduce or block blood flow to the heart. A person may experience chest pain or discomfort from inadequate blood flow to the heart, especially during exercise when the heart needs more oxygen.

Angina is the body’s warning sign that the heart is being overworked. It can be experienced in a variety of ways.

  • Angina usually manifests as a feeling of pain, pressure, or tightness in the middle chest, especially behind the sternum (breastbone).
  • The sensation may spread to the left shoulder, arm, and hand, or to the neck, throat, and jaw.
  • The attack typically lasts for only a few minutes

An attack of angina does not cause permanent damage to the heart muscle. This is the main difference between angina and a heart attack, during which part of the heart muscle suffers permanent damage (unless the new clot-busting drugs are given in time).

Nice To Know:

Angioplasty can be performed in arteries throughout the body. Angioplasty that is done in the arteries of the heart is called coronary angioplasty, while angioplasty that is done in arteries in other parts of the body is called peripheral angioplasty.

Facts About Angioplasty

  • Angioplasty is a procedure that widens narrowed arteries in the heart without the need for major surgery.
  • More than a half million angioplasties are performed each year in the United States alone, making it the most common procedure for treating narrowed or blocked arteries and restoring blood flow to the heart.
  • More than 1 million angioplasty procedures are performed each year worldwide.
  • Dr. Andreas Gruentzig performed the first successful balloon angioplasty in the heart in 1977 in Switzerland.
  • In the majority of angoplasty procedures, stents also are used to keep an artery open after it is widened.
  • Balloon angioplasty, also called percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (or PTCA), was the original type of angioplasty. Now angioplasty is also done using tiny blades, a drill, or a laser attached to the tip of the catheter, in place of the balloon.
  • The first angioplasty procedure launched a new medical subspecialty, interventional cardiology, which focuses on using long, narrow tubes called catheters with a variety of devices on the tip, to treat heart problems without surgery.


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