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What Is Percutaneous Coronary Intervention?

Percutaneous (per-ku-TA-ne-us) coronary intervention (PCI), commonly known as coronary angioplasty (AN-jee-oh-plas-tee) or simply angioplasty, is a non-surgical procedure used to open narrow or blocked coronary (heart) arteries. Percutaneous means “through the skin.” The procedure is done by inserting a thin flexible tube (catheter) through the skin in the upper thigh or arm in the artery. The procedure restores blood flow to the heart muscle.

Overview

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 coronary heart disease (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.

PCI 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.

Outlook

Serious complications from PCI 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 PCI is ongoing to make it safer and more effective and to prevent treated arteries from narrowing again.

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August 28, 2014