Benefits and Risks of Coronary Angioplasty
For people with clogged arteries, angioplasty may be the path to relieving symptoms. Your doctor may recommend this atherosclerosis treatment when other therapies aren’t enough to relieve your symptoms. If you are considering this procedure, it’s important to weigh the benefits and risks. Your doctor is the best person to lead you through this process. Here is information you can use as a building block for the conversation.
The main benefit of angioplasty is relieving the symptoms of blocked arteries, including chest pain. Usually, this happens very quickly after the procedure. In case of a heart attack, angioplasty can also be lifesaving. In a heart attack, having angioplasty within the recommended time can limit heart muscle damage. It accomplishes all of these things by restoring blood flow to oxygen-starved heart muscle.
When you no longer experience chest pain and other symptoms, it’s easier to exercise. You will have more energy for physical activity. Physical activity is one of the key lifestyle changes people with atherosclerosis need to make. So, relieving your symptoms can help you get back into taking care of yourself with exercise. This also applies to other strenuous activities, such as sex. You may find your sex life improves after angioplasty. Just be sure to clear it with your doctor first.
There are also benefits of angioplasty over CABG (coronary artery bypass graft surgery, or ‘heart bypass surgery’). First, it is less invasive. It is a catheter-based procedure. Doctors thread a catheter through an incision in your leg or arm and feed it up to your heart. They use imaging and special tools to open the artery and place a stent to keep it open. This allows doctors to relieve symptoms and save lives without opening your chest or stopping your heart for open heart surgery.
Because it is less invasive, the recovery is usually easier. And you typically only need moderate sedation instead of general anesthesia. Most people stay a night in the hospital instead of days, unless they are recovering from a heart attack. The incision is tiny, often just requiring steri-strips, so healing is smoother. And you will likely return to most normal activities within a few days.
Compared to bypass surgery, major complications are rare with angioplasty. However, any procedure carries potential risks. For example, infection is possible any time you open the skin. The common risks with angioplasty include:
Bleeding, which usually results in bruising around the incision. In some cases, serious bleeding can occur.
Blood clots within a stent, which can cause a heart attack. Your doctor will prescribe medicine to prevent this after angioplasty.
Restenosis, which is a recurrence of the blockage. This happens about 30% of the time with angioplasty alone. Using a stent reduces the risk to around 15%. Drug-eluting stents further reduce the risk to 10%. In most cases, doctors can re-open these blockages.
Other rare complications are possible with angioplasty including:
Abnormal heart rhythms, which are usually temporary
Coronary artery damage or tears, which may require emergency surgery
Dye or contrast media problems, such as allergic reaction or kidney function problems. If you have existing kidney disease, make sure your doctor knows. There are steps to take to decrease the risk of problems from imaging dyes.
Sudden vessel occlusion, which is a total blockage of the artery at the site of the angioplasty. It typically occurs within 24 hours of angioplasty and requires immediate medical attention.
While angioplasty can greatly improve your quality of life, it is not a cure for the underlying problem. As long as you have risk factors for heart disease, you can still develop future problems. Atherosclerosis can still occur and damage other vessels. You can help reduce your risk of more problems with the following strategies:
Eating a heart-healthy diet
Getting regular physical activity
Maintaining a healthy body weight
Quitting smoking and other forms of tobacco or nicotine
Your doctor is your best resource if you are struggling with these lifestyle changes. Together, you can find solutions that will work for you and improve your health.