What is angioplasty? What is a stent?

In angioplasty, a miniature balloon is inflated inside a clogged blood vessel to open it up and increase blood flow. A stent is a small wire mesh “scaffolding” that is left in the blood vessel to keep it open.


When is angioplasty or stent implantation recommended?

Cardiologists prescribe these procedures when a patient’s artery has narrowed and caused blood flow to the heart to slow down. Most commonly, the narrowing is caused by atherosclerosis, which happens when plaque builds up on the artery walls. Plaque may even block blood flow in that artery. Untreated atherosclerosis may lead to a heart attack.


What is the procedure for angioplasty and stent implantation?

The angioplasty balloon is positioned on the end of a long, thin tube called a catheter. In standard angioplasty, a cardiac specialist inserts the catheter into a “femoral artery” in the groin area and threads it up to the heart artery. (A newer procedure called radial angiography uses an artery in the wrist.) Once the end of the catheter reaches the clogged part of the artery, the balloon is inflated, and the plaque flattens against the artery wall.

When a stent is going to be implanted, it is attached to the catheter over the balloon. When the balloon inflates, the stent expands. When the balloon deflates, the stent remains expanded, and the balloon and catheter can be removed while the stent stays in place.


What are the results of angioplasty and stent implantation?

As blood flow is restored, many patients stop having the angina pain that they experienced because of the blockage. They are not as easily fatigued. Of course, the risk of heart attack is also significantly reduced. Patients usually need to take blood thinners or aspirin to help ensure good blood flow. They must also be monitored for new narrowing or blockage, called restenosis.