Angioplasty – Improving Blood Flow to the Heart

At one time, if you had coronary artery disease – a blockage of one or more of the arteries that feed the heart – your only option was bypass surgery, an expensive major operation requiring weeks or months of recuperation. A newer procedure, angioplasty, involves using a balloon-tipped catheter to gently compress material blocking the coronary artery and allow for improved blood flow through the artery. Angioplasty is quick and relatively cheap, with patients up and around in a few days. While not appropriate for every heart patient, angioplasty is now as common as bypass surgery.

How Angioplasty Works

Under local anesthesia, an x-ray guided catheter is inserted into an artery in your leg or arm and a second, balloon-tipped catheter is placed within it. With the help of a guidewire, the balloon catheter is advanced to the area of the blockage and inflated and deflated several times until the blockage is successfully compressed and the narrowed artery is widened.

What To Expect

The procedure takes an hour or two. You may feel some twinges in your chest when the balloon is inflated, but once the blockage is compressed, the pain should disappear. You will be asked to rest quietly for a few hours after the procedure while your heart and blood pressure are monitored. You can generally go home within a few days, providing your blood pressure, ECG and other tests are normal.

Following Up

You’ll probably need to see your doctor periodically for a stress ECG to measure how well your heart functions under exertion. You may be asked to take medications to help in healing. Generally you do not need to restrict your activity level and your doctor may even recommend that you start an exercise program to improve the health of your heart.

Looking to the Future

Unfortunately, angioplasty is a temporary solution for many. In a third to a half of all cases, arteries opened by angioplasty begin to narrow again within six months. Knowing you can’t rely on angioplasty as a permanent solution to your heart problems, ask your doctor for information on keeping your heart healthy. Switch to a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet; get regular aerobic exercise (at least 20 minutes three times a week); and reduce stress in your life. You’ll feel better and chances are you’ll stay out of the hospital longer.

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