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Anatomy of an angioplasty

» How it works

Free flow

Many patients who undergo angioplasty also have a stent placed in the newly cleared artery. A stent is a small mesh tube that props open the artery. Whether a patient receives a stent depends on the artery’s size and the blockage’s location.

Cardiologists implant stents with a balloon catheter, similar to angioplasty. Though the devices are meant to keep arteries from renarrowing, the area treated could close up again. A newer type of stent slowly releases drugs to stop this from happening, but recent reports have linked them to greater risk of blood clots forming on the stent, causing heart attacks. Work on improving stents is under way.

Sometimes eating healthfully, quitting smoking, exercising and taking medicine just aren’t enough to keep your heart working properly when you have coronary artery disease (CAD). If you’re experiencing a worsening of chest pain and shortness of breath, your doctor may perform an angioplasty. This minimally invasive procedure opens clogged heart arteries and allows blood to flow freely again.

How it works

CAD is caused by plaque buildup in the coronary arteries, which narrows or blocks the vessels and reduces blood flow to your heart. During angioplasty, doctors thread into the artery a thin tube with a balloon attached. The balloon is inflated, which compresses the plaque against the vessel walls, opening the artery up to normal blood flow. The balloon is then deflated and removed with the catheter.

Following angioplasty, there’s a risk of the artery renarrowing within months. Devices called stents can prevent this, but they carry their own risks. Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of the procedure.

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