Angioplasty and Stenting

         Basic Facts

  • Angioplasty involves the insertion of a very thin tube called a catheter into an artery in the arm or leg. The catheter is threaded back through the arterial system all the way to the arteries in the heart.
  • Angioplasty treatment is designed to re-open the inside of a blocked coronary artery and to keep the artery open to maintain blood flow to the heart muscle.
  • Once an angioplasty has widened a coronary artery, a device called a stent can be placed inside the artery to act as a scaffold that prevents the artery from collapsing or being closed off by plaque again.
As people age, cholesterol and fat (plaque) can accumulate in the blood vessels of the heart, a process is called atherosclerosis. When enough plaque accumulates inside a person's coronary arteries to reduce or block blood flow to the heart, that person is said to have coronary heart disease.

During angioplasty, a physician inflates a small balloon inside a blood vessel to press against and flatten the plaque, re-opening the artery. The goal of angioplasty is to restore adequate blood flow (revascularization) through the affected blood vessel. A stent, a tiny, expandable metal-mesh tube that fits inside an artery, is left in place to keep the artery open.

Stents coated with drugs that may help prevent clotting and restenosis have been approved for use in the United States in people with coronary heart disease. The drugs help fight the scar tissue and clots that can form inside a stent soon after it has been implanted and promote the growth of smooth arterial tissue over the surface of the stent. 

Drug-coated stents have been shown to reduce restenosis, or renarrowing, of the artery in certain blockages, which can reduce the number of repeat procedures. However, recent research has shown that drug-eluting stents may slightly raise the long-term risk for the development of blood clots -- typically months after stent placement -- that can lead to adverse cardiac events, including heart attack and death. Therefore, the latest recommendations call for patients who receive drug-eluting stents to continue anticlotting medication for at least 6-12 months if they are not at high risk for bleeding.

Angioplasty and Stenting FAQ