Angioplasty is a medical procedure in which a balloon is used to open narrowed or blocked blood vessels of the heart (coronary arteries). It is not considered to be a type of surgery.

Fat and cholesterol can accumulate on the inside of arteries and form deposits called plaque. This disease process is called atherosclerosis. The arteries that supply blood to the heart itself (called the coronary arteries) can be narrowed or blocked by this accumulation.

If the blockage is not too severe, a balloon catheter may be used to open the heart artery as an alternative to open heart surgery. The catheter is a small, hollow, flexible tube that has a balloon near the end of it.

The procedure starts with the patient lying on a padded table. Local pain medicine is given, and the catheters are then inserted in an artery (usually near the groin). The patient is awake for the procedure, but pain medicine can be given as needed.

The heart and heart arteries are then visualized by using X-rays and dye, and blockages in the heart vessels are identified. A balloon catheter is then inserted within the blockage and inflated, thus widening or opening the blocked vessel and restoring adequate blood flow to the heart muscle.

Occasionally, blood-thinning medicines are also given to prevent formation of a blood clot. In almost all cases, a device called a stent is also placed at the side of the narrowing or blockage in order to keep the artery open. A common type of stent is made of self-expanding, stainless steel mesh.

Angioplasty may be performed to treat:

  • Persistent chest pain (angina)
  • Blockage of one or more coronary arteries
  • Residual obstruction in a coronary artery during or after a heart attack