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How Is Coronary Angioplasty Done?

Before you have coronary angioplasty, your doctor will need to know the location and extent of the blockages in your coronary (heart) arteries. To find this information, your doctor will use coronary angiography (an-jee-OG-rah-fee). This test uses dye and special x rays to show the insides of your arteries.

During angiography, a small tube (or tubes) called a catheter is inserted into an artery, usually in the groin (upper thigh). The catheter is threaded to the coronary arteries.

Special dye, which is visible on x-ray pictures, is injected through the catheter. The
x-ray pictures are taken as the dye flows through your coronary arteries. The dye shows whether blockages are present and their location and severity.

For the angioplasty procedure, another catheter with a balloon at its tip (a balloon catheter) is inserted in the coronary artery and placed in the blockage. Then, the balloon is expanded. This pushes the plaque against the artery wall, relieving the blockage and improving blood flow.

Coronary Balloon Angioplasty

Figure A shows the location of the heart and coronary arteries. Figure B shows a deflated balloon catheter inserted into a coronary artery narrowed by plaque. The inset image shows a cross-section of the artery with the inserted balloon catheter. In figure C, the balloon is inflated, compressing the plaque against the artery wall. Figure D shows the widened artery with increased blood flow. The inset image shows a cross-section of the widened artery and compressed plaque.

Figure A shows the location of the heart and coronary arteries. Figure B shows a deflated balloon catheter inserted into a coronary artery narrowed by plaque. The inset image shows a cross-section of the artery with the inserted balloon catheter. In figure C, the balloon is inflated, compressing the plaque against the artery wall. Figure D shows the widened artery with increased blood flow. The inset image shows a cross-section of the widened artery and compressed plaque.

A small mesh tube called a stent usually is placed in the artery during angioplasty. The stent is wrapped around the deflated balloon catheter before the catheter is inserted into the artery.

When the balloon is inflated to compress the plaque, the stent expands and attaches to the artery wall. The stent supports the inner artery wall and reduces the chance of the artery becoming narrow or blocked again.

Some stents are coated with medicine that is slowly and continuously released into the artery. They are called drug-eluting stents. The medicine helps prevent scar tissue from blocking the artery following angioplasty.

Angioplasty With Stent Placement

Figure A shows the location of the heart and coronary arteries. Figure B shows the deflated balloon catheter and closed stent inserted into the narrow coronary artery. The inset image shows a cross-section of the artery with the inserted balloon catheter and closed stent. In figure C, the balloon is inflated, expanding the stent and compressing the plaque against the artery wall. Figure D shows the stent-widened artery. The inset image shows a cross-section of the compressed plaque and stent-widened artery.

Figure A shows the location of the heart and coronary arteries. Figure B shows the deflated balloon catheter and closed stent inserted into the narrow coronary artery. The inset image shows a cross-section of the artery with the inserted balloon catheter and closed stent. In figure C, the balloon is inflated, expanding the stent and compressing the plaque against the artery wall. Figure D shows the stent-widened artery. The inset image shows a cross-section of the compressed plaque and stent-widened artery.

For more details about angiography, angioplasty, and stent placement, go to “What To Expect During Coronary Angioplasty.”

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Coronary Angioplasty Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. To find clinical trials that are currently underway for Coronary Angioplasty, visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.


Know the Facts and Act Fast!

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When a heart attack happens, any delays in treatment can be deadly. 

Knowing the warning symptoms of a heart attack and how to take action can save your life or someone else’s.

The NHLBI has created a new series of informative, easy-to-read heart attack materials to help the public better understand the facts about heart attacks and how to act fast to save a life.

Click the links to download or order the NHLBI's new heart attack materials:

“Don’t Take a Chance With a Heart Attack: Know the Facts and Act Fast” (also available in Spanish)

“Heart Attack: Know the Symptoms. Take Action.”

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February 01, 2012 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.