Balloon Angioplasty

What is an angioplasty?

Angioplasty is a medical procedure that opens up blocked or narrowed blood vessels without surgery.

Angioplasty can open your blocked artery, restore blood flow to your tissues, and relieve your symptoms without the need for surgery. An interventional radiologist, a doctor specially trained in minimally invasive, targeted treatments, performs this procedure.

During the angioplasty, the interventional radiologist inserts a very small balloon attached to a thin tube (a catheter) into a blood vessel through a very small nick in the skin, about the size of a pencil tip.

The catheter is threaded under X-ray guidance to the site of the blocked artery. When the balloon is in the area of the blockage, it is inflated to open the artery, improving blood flow through the area.

Why do I need an angioplasty?

The most common reason for angioplasty is to relieve a blockage of an artery caused by atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

Atherosclerosis is a gradual process in which cholesterol and scar tissue build up inside the artery, forming a substance called plaque that clogs the artery.

Arteries are like tubes; they carry blood and oxygen to the tissue in your body. When an artery becomes narrowed or blocked, the tissue supplied by that artery does not get enough oxygen.

The symptoms you feel depend on which artery is blocked. For example, a blocked artery in the legs may cause pain when you walk or even when you are resting in bed. A blocked artery to a kidney may cause high blood pressure.

Some blockages are best treated with surgery, while others are best treated with angioplasty. A member of the interventional radiology team - the doctor, nurse or technologist - will talk with you about the procedure in detail and answer any questions you have.

The angioplasty procedure usually takes one to two hours to complete. In some cases, it may take longer.

What is an angioplasty like? Will it hurt?

If you have not had an angiogram (an X-ray examination of your arteries), the interventional radiologist will perform that procedure before proceeding with your angioplasty.

An angioplasty has three major steps:

  1. Placement of the angioplasty catheter into the blocked artery
  2. Inflation of the balloon to open the blocked artery
  3. Removal of the catheter

Local anesthetic is used so that you will only feel some pressure during the procedure.

Reprinted with permission of the Society of Interventional Radiology (c) 2004, 2008; All rightsv reserved.

Text Size