Under normal circumstances, the coronary arteries supply fresh oxygen-filled blood to the heart muscle. But when plaque blocks those arteries, either partially or fully, blood flow is disrupted. Disrupted blood flow can cause chest pain called angina, and a heart attack can occur if the blockage is severe and the heart muscle doesn’t get the blood it needs to function.
When this occurs, a physician will carefully review your symptoms, perform a thorough physical exam and order imaging tests to determine if you have atherosclerosis (the blocking of your coronary arteries). If you have atherosclerosis, angioplasty may be recommended.
Angioplasty is a procedure used to open up blocked or narrowed coronary arteries to help restore normal blood flow in patients with heart disease or a blood clot.
Angioplasty can be a scheduled procedure. In some cases, however, it is used on an emergency basis to clear a blockage found during the diagnosis of myocardial infarction (a heart attack).
During an emergency, a stent is often placed within the blocked artery to hold it open.
What to Expect During and After Angioplasty
For an angioplasty, you will be awake but sedated. During the procedure, which is performed in a cardiac catheterization lab, a physician will insert a catheter into an artery, typically in the groin.
Guided by an X-ray and dye used to visualize the artery, the physician will guide the catheter up and into the blocked coronary artery. Once the catheter reaches the blockage, the blockage may be removed using a balloon that pushes the plaque to the side.
You will need to lie still for several hours after the procedure and will likely remain in the hospital overnight. Most people are able to return to normal activities and work within one week, but your physician will talk with you about guidelines specific to your individual case and needs.
Following angioplasty, it’s best to practice heart-healthy habits to prevent future blockages. This includes eating a balanced diet low in saturated fat and added sugar, exercising regularly, getting plenty of sleep, finding ways to manage stress effectively and not smoking.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with blocked arteries, talk with a doctor.
Sources: American Heart Association, Medline Plus, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention