What is angioplasty?

Angioplasty is a procedure to widen or open a blocked or narrowed artery. It restores normal blood flow through diseased arteries. Angioplasty is used on renal (kidney) arteries, carotid (neck) arteries, cerebral (brain) arteries, and coronary (heart) arteries. It treats coronary artery disease, peripheral artery disease, and carotid artery disease.

Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to your organs and tissues. Atherosclerosis is a common cause of narrowed or blocked arteries. Atherosclerosis is a build-up of fatty deposits on artery walls. The deposits harden into a substance called plaque. A buildup of plaque narrows and hardens the artery. A serious narrowing can occur over time and reduce blood flow through artery. 

Atherosclerosis can also cause a blood clot to form. This can totally block the artery and cause a heart attack stroke, stroke, tissue death, and other serious and life threatening problems.

Angioplasty is only one method used to treat atherosclerosis. Discuss all of your treatment options with your doctor to understand which options are right for you.

Types of angioplasty

The types of angioplasty procedures include:

  • Atherectomy involves inserting a catheter into a blood vessel in your groin or arm. Your doctor passes the catheter into the diseased artery using a guide wire. The plaque is scraped or drilled away with special catheter tools.
  • Balloon angioplasty is a similar procedure. It involves inserting a catheter into a blood vessel in your groin or arm. Your doctor passes the catheter into the diseased artery using a guide wire. Your doctor then expands a balloon on the tip of the catheter wire to open the artery.
  • Laser angioplasty also involves inserting a catheter into a blood vessel in your groin or arm. Your doctor passes the catheter into the diseased artery using a guide wire. A laser on the catheter tip destroys the plaque and opens the artery.

Your doctor considers different factors to decide which type of procedure or combination of procedures to use. Factors include the location, size, shape, and softness or hardness of the plaque. 

Other procedures that may be performed

Your doctor may perform other procedures in addition to angioplasty to diagnose or treat certain conditions. Procedures include:

  • Angiography, which allows your doctor to take a picture or image (called an angiogram) of your blood vessels
  • Minimally invasive bypass grafting, which provides a new route for blood flow around diseased arteries. Grafting uses healthy vessels taken from other places in your body. You may have general anesthesia if your doctor combines this surgery with angioplasty.
  • Stenting, which involves inserting a mesh tube inside the artery and expanding it to keep the artery open after angioplasty.

Why is angioplasty performed? 

Angioplasty treats the following diseases and conditions:

  • Aortic atherosclerosis, a narrowing and hardening of the aorta due to a buildup of plaque. Your aorta is the main artery leaving your heart. Aortic atherosclerosis can lead to an aortic aneurysm, a bulging of the aorta that can rupture and bleed heavily.
  • Carotid artery disease, a narrowing of the carotid arteries in your neck. The carotid arteries carry blood from your heart to your brain. Carotid artery disease increases your risk of stroke.
  • Coronary artery disease (CAD), a narrowing of the arteries that supply your heart with blood. Coronary artery disease can lead to a heart attack.
  • Dialysis fistula or graft narrowing, a narrowing of a fistula or graft used for dialysis. Fistulas and grafts allow access to the body’s blood flow to treat kidney failure. Narrowed fistulas or grafts reduce blood flow so there is not enough blood flow to perform dialysis.
  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD), a narrowing of the arteries in your arms or legs. Peripheral artery disease can lead to poor healing of wounds and serious infections, such as gangrene (tissue death) in the feet and legs.
  • Renal artery stenosis, a narrowing of the arteries that supply the kidneys. It can lead to kidney damage and kidney failure. 
  • Vein narrowing. Veins are blood vessels that carry blood from the body to the heart. Larger veins can narrow and require angioplasty. Vein narrowing can lead to a blood clot (deep vein thrombosis) that can travel to your lungs or brain and cause a pulmonary embolism or stroke.