What Is Coronary Angioplasty?
As you age, a waxy substance called plaque (plak) can build up inside your arteries. This condition is called atherosclerosis (ath-er-o-skler-O-sis).
Atherosclerosis can affect any artery in the body. When atherosclerosis affects the coronary arteries, the condition is called (CHD) or coronary artery disease.
Over time, plaque can harden or rupture (break open). Hardened plaque narrows the coronary arteries and reduces the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart. This can cause chest pain or discomfort called angina (an-JI-nuh or AN-juh-nuh).
If the plaque ruptures, a blood clot can form on its surface. A large blood clot can mostly or completely block blood flow through a coronary artery. This is the most common cause of a heart attack. Over time, ruptured plaque also hardens and narrows the coronary arteries.
Angioplasty can restore blood flow to the heart. During the procedure, a thin, flexible catheter (tube) with a balloon at its tip is threaded through a blood vessel to the affected artery. Once in place, the balloon is inflated to compress the plaque against the artery wall. This restores blood flow through the artery.
Doctors may use the procedure to improve symptoms of CHD, such as angina. The procedure also can reduce heart muscle damage caused by a heart attack.
Serious complications from angioplasty don’t occur often. However, they can happen no matter how careful your doctor is or how well he or she does the procedure. The most common complications are discomfort and bleeding at the catheter insertion site.
Research on angioplasty is ongoing to make it safer and more effective and to prevent treated arteries from narrowing again.
What Is a Stent?
A stent is a small mesh tube that’s used to treat narrow or weak arteries. Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood away from your heart to other parts of your body.
A stent is placed in an artery as part of a procedure called percutaneous (per-ku-TA-ne-us) coronary intervention (PCI), sometimes referred to as coronary angioplasty (AN-jee-oh-plas-tee). PCI restores blood flow through narrow or blocked arteries. A stent helps support the inner wall of the artery in the months or years after PCI.
Doctors also may place stents in weak arteries to improve blood flow and help prevent the arteries from bursting.
Stents usually are made of metal mesh, but sometimes they’re made of fabric. Fabric stents, also called stent grafts, are used in larger arteries.
Some stents are coated with medicine that is slowly and continuously released into the artery. These stents are called drug-eluting stents. The medicine helps prevent the artery from becoming blocked again.