A coronary angioplasty is a procedure used to widen blocked or narrowed coronary arteries. A short wire-mesh tube, called a stent, is inserted into an artery to allow blood to flow more freely through it.
Your coronary arteries are blood vessels that supply your heart muscle with the blood and oxygen it needs to work properly. Over time a fatty substance, called atheroma, can build up inside your coronary arteries, causing them to narrow. When this happens, less blood and oxygen reach your heart muscle which can cause chest pain (angina).
During an angioplasty, a flexible tube called a catheter is used to insert a mesh tube, known as a stent, into the coronary artery.
A small balloon is inflated to open the stent, which pushes against the artery walls. This widens the artery, squashing fatty deposits against the artery wall so that blood can flow through it more freely.
The procedure usually takes around 30 minutes, but it can take longer depending on how many sections of your artery need treatment. You will normally be able to go home the day after a coronary angioplasty but will need to avoid driving for about one week.
In the majority of cases, the blood flow through the artery is improved, and many people find that their symptoms have improved. Sometimes the stent which has been inserted into the artery can become narrowed later on (restenosis) which can cause angina again.
A small number of people have complications. Very occasionally, the treatment completely blocks the coronary artery, in which case you may need to have the angioplasty done again straightaway or you may, very rarely, need emergency heart surgery.
The tip of the catheter may also dislodge a clot of blood or fatty material from the wall of a blood vessel. These can block your artery, which may lead to a heart attack or stroke. If you are in a stable condition when you have the angioplasty, the risk of this happening is less than one in 100.