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Coronary arteries are the blood vessels that supply
oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle. The coronary arteries can get narrowed or blocked by
the buildup of plaque. Plaque is made up of extra cholesterol, calcium, and
other substances that float in blood. Over time, plaque can build up on the
inside walls of the coronary arteries and block the blood flow. A procedure
called angioplasty can open up a blocked artery.
An angioplasty is done using a thin, soft tube called a
catheter. The catheter is guided into the blood vessels of the heart. First,
your doctor inserts the catheter into a blood vessel in the groin, arm, or wrist. A very thin guide wire is inside the catheter. Your doctor carefully
guides the catheter through blood vessels into the blocked portion of the
coronary artery. Your doctor watches the movement of the catheter in the blood
vessels on an X-ray screen.
After the catheter reaches the blocked artery, your doctor
will move the guide wire farther into the blocked portion. A small balloon is
slid along the guide wire into the blocked artery. In most cases, a small,
expandable stent is placed in the artery with the
The small balloon is inflated. The balloon may stay inflated
for a short time. The pressure from the inflated balloon presses
the plaque against the wall of the artery, creating more room for blood to
flow. The inflated balloon also expands the stent.
Next, the balloon is deflated. But the stent stays expanded.
The stent presses against the walls of the artery and keeps the artery open.
Your doctor removes the balloon, guide wire, and catheter. The stent remains in
the blood vessel, allowing the blood to flow normally
After an angioplasty, the blocked artery is opened up and
oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood flows more normally into the heart
These X-rays show a blocked coronary artery before and after
an angioplasty procedure. Before angioplasty, the blood flow is blocked by a
narrowed artery. After the angioplasty, blood is flowing better through the
newly opened artery. These X-rays are from an angiogram. An angiogram is a test
that uses a special dye and camera to take X-ray pictures of the blood flow in
April 5, 2012
Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology & Robert A. Kloner, MD, PhD - Cardiology
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