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What do I need to know about angioplasty?

        Health | Heart

The Possible Benefits and Risks of AngioplastyBenefits of angioplasty include:

  • relief from angina
  • increased ability to exercise
  • ability to return to your former levels of activity
  • less need for medicine to control angina symptoms
  • possibly less anxiety about a future heart attack

Risks of angioplasty include:

  • temporary irregularity of the heartbeat
  • bruise in the groin, called a hematoma
  • increased angina
  • need for emergency bypass surgery
  • heart attack
  • damage to your artery
  • renarrowing of the artery after the procedure
  • need for additional procedures
  • allergic reaction to the dye used in the cardiac catheterization
  • stroke
  • death

During angioplasty, the doctor threads a thin tube called a catheter through your artery to insert a balloon. When the doctor inflates the balloon, it opens up the blocked part of the artery. Sometimes a small, flexible tube, called a stent, is placed in the artery and left there to help keep the blood vessel open. This procedure is called stenting. Doctors often recommend angioplasty, and possibly stenting, for people who have angina that isn't helped by medicines. Angina is another name for chest pain.

How can I know if I'm a good candidate for angioplasty?

To determine whether you are a good candidate for angioplasty, your doctor will run tests and consider the following:

  • whether your symptoms can be controlled with medicine
  • your age
  • the severity of your angina, including how long you've had it and how painful or debilitating it is
  • where the blockage is
  • how your blood vessels are shaped
  • how many vessels are narrowed
  • how severe the narrowing is
  • how hard or calcified the plaque has become
  • your overall health, including the number of previous heart attacks you've had

Your doctor may not recommend angioplasty for you in the following instances.

  • The catheter can't reach the blockage.
  • Multiple blood vessels have blockages.
  • The plaque is too hard, or calcified.
  • Your left main coronary artery is significantly blocked by plaque. This is the blood vessel that supplies blood to most of your heart.

In these cases, you'll need to discuss other options with your doctor.

How can I make an informed decision about angioplasty?

If your doctor recommends angioplasty, you will need to decide whether you should have the procedure done. To make an informed decision, you should know:

  • what angioplasty does
  • how angioplasty is done
  • if there are variations on angioplasty
  • what you can expect in terms of risk and chances of success
  • what you should ask your doctor before the surgery