Angioplasty is a non-surgical, interventional procedure to improve blood flow through narrowed or blocked arteries of the heart, due to atherosclerosis. If tests show that you have narrowed arteries, angioplasty can relieve your chest pain. It also can help prevent heart attack and improve your overall quality of life. Sometimes, doctors use angioplasty as an emergency treatment for a heart attack to get the blood flow restored quickly and reduce damage to the heart muscle. This procedure can, in some cases, restore blood flow better than clot-busting drugs. Because an angioplasty can limit damage to the heart muscle, it, therefore, can improve chances of survival after a heart attack.

Your doctor has two options for this procedure, both of which are performed in a cardiac catheterization laboratory, commonly referred to as a cath lab.

Balloon Angioplasty

Using a thin, flexible tube called a catheter with a tiny balloon attached, your doctor threads it into a blood vessel in the wrist or groin and guides it to where the coronary arteries branch off to the heart. Once the catheter is positioned over the blockage, your interventional cardiologist inflates the tiny balloon. The pressure from the inflated balloon causes the plaque blocking the artery to split and compress, molding it against the artery wall and restoring blood flow. Once the blockage is cleared, the physician deflates the balloon and removes the catheter.

Stenting with Balloon Angioplasty

Often, a mesh tube called a stent is placed in the artery during the angioplasty procedure. When the balloon inflates, the stent expands, supporting the artery wall and reducing the chances of the artery becoming narrowed or blocked again. Sometimes a drug-eluting stent is used which releases medications into your artery and prevents your artery from becoming blocked with scar tissue.  Learn more about stenting.

Laser Angioplasty

Some blockages are too long or too complicated for the balloon technique to be effective. In this case, your doctor may opt to use laser angioplasty. The laser directs a cool beam toward the blockage through a catheter in the artery. The laser beam vaporizes the plaque causing the blockage, changing it to gases and water. A balloon angioplasty may follow laser angioplasty.

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