Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Traditionally a heart disease diagnosis often meant undergoing invasive open heart surgery. However, advances in technology have provided less invasive options for patients, such as angioplasty. Here is a short summary of what to expect with an angioplasty procedure.
Reasons for the Procedure
Angioplasty is primarily performed to help treat a form of heart disease called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis develops when fatty plaque slowly builds up over time, causing a blockage in the blood vessels of the heart. A doctor may recommend this procedure when diet and lifestyle changes aren’t enough to help the problem, you have a heart attack or you’re at a high risk for heart attack. If the heart is weak, diseased or damaged, coronary bypass surgery will most likely be recommended instead of angioplasty.
An angioplasty is performed first by inserting a needle either in the femoral artery of the leg or the brachial artery of the arm. A sheath is put in place to keep the artery open so that a guide catheter, which is a small plastic tube that sometimes uses PET tubing, can be used to inject dye into the artery. The dye is used in conjunction with x-ray imaging to study the heart and better understand the best way to approach the rest of the procedure.
Opening the Block
A balloon catheter is inserted next, typically along with a stent. Balloon catheter manufacturing itself is fairly diversified with a number of unique and made-to-order products, so the catheter your doctor uses will probably be specialized. The catheter and stent are guided to the site of the blockage using a flexible guidewire. The balloon is inflated to open the block and the stent is left in place as the balloon catheter is removed to help prevent the artery from closing.
While less invasive than an open heart surgery, the procedure still comes with certain risks. More common risks include bleeding and bruising at the catheter insertion site and the potential for blood clot formation. If the procedure is performed without placing stents, there is also a risk that the artery will re-narrow, also known as restenosis. More serious but rare complications include tears to the coronary artery, heart attack, stroke from loosened plaque and kidney damage from the contrast dye used during the procedure.
The procedure itself takes 30 to 90 minutes. Be prepared for days of rest immediately after your procedure. If doctors inserted a stent, you will likely need to take aspirin and an antiplatlet medication to prevent complications. You may want to consider enrolling in a cardiac rehabilitation program after your surgery in order to learn how to manage your condition in the future.
While angioplasty plays an integral role in the treatment process for many patients suffering from atherosclerosis, it’s important to understand that the procedure is not for everyone. It’s also essential to continue living a healthy lifestyle in order to help control the formation of arterial plaque, even after your procedure is successfully completed.