Balloon angioplasty is a way of opening a blocked blood vessel. Instead of using surgery to cut the blood vessel open, doctors can slide a small tube on the inside of the blood vessel and direct it to the area that is blocked using x-rays. Inflating the balloon on the end of the tube pushes the blockage out of the way and allows more blood to flow through the artery.
Balloon angioplasty treats blockages that usually occur because of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Arteries are tubes that blood flows through in order to bring oxygen and nutrients to all of the body's vital organs and muscles. When blockages occur, blood flow decreases and the organs or muscles that the artery supplies do not get enough oxygen or nutrients. This problem can cause different symptoms depending on which artery is blocked. For example, blockages in the leg arteries can cause cramps with walking while blockages in the kidney arteries can cause high blood pressure and eventual kidney failure.
No. Some blockages are best treated with surgery. The location of the blockage and the patient's symptoms often help doctors determine which treatment is better.
A stent is a strong, flexible, metal tube that can be permanently placed on the inside of a blood vessel. After balloon angioplasty stretches a blood vessel to open a blockage, doctors often use a stent to hold the blood vessel open and increase blood flow through it.
Most patients feel some pressure during angioplasty but the procedure is not usually uncomfortable. The doctor uses local anesthesia (lidocaine) to numb the skin on the upper thigh before placing a small needle into the leg artery. The needle is then removed and replaced with a flexible tube through which the doctor can complete the rest of the procedure. Injecting a substance called contrast agent (x-ray dye) helps the doctor see the blood vessels on the x-ray and direct the balloon or stent into position. After balloon angioplasty patients usually spend one night in the hospital for observation, and they can return to their full activity level 24 to 48 hours later.
Although angioplasty is possible in almost any artery, it is most commonly used to treat blockages in the coronary (heart), iliac /femoral (leg), renal (kidney), and carotid (neck) arteries.