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Balloon Angioplasty and Stents

What is balloon angioplasty?

Angioplasty is performed by interventional cardiologists to open a narrowed artery. They do this using a long, narrow tube called a catheter which has a balloon on its tip. During the procedure, the doctor inflates the balloon at the blockage site in the heart's artery. This is done either to flatten out the unwanted plaque against the artery wall or to open a narrowed vessel or artery.

What is a stent?

A stent is a small, mesh-like device made of metal that interventional cardiologists use to place inside the coronary artery of the heart. The stent helps improve blood flow to the heart muscle by serving as a support or scaffold to keep the vessel open. Stent procedures are often used together with balloon angioplasty.

What can I expect during a balloon angioplasty or stent procedure?

Both stent and angioplasty procedures are performed in a cardiac catheterization laboratory. You will be asked not to eat or drink anything after midnight the night before the procedure. A mild sedative is given prior to the procedure and you may be asked to shave the area where the catheter is inserted.

During the procedure, electrodes (small metal disks) are placed using gel on your chest. The electrodes have wires attached, called leads, which hook up to an electrocardiogram machine. This machine will monitor your heart rhythm during the procedure.

To insert the catheter, a small incision will be made in your skin. The catheter will be placed into an artery in your leg, arm or wrist and threaded through to your heart. Once the catheter reaches the blocked artery, a dye is injected so that the doctor can take pictures of the coronary arteries (called a coronary angiogram).

Using the angiogram, the doctor can determine the size and location of the blockage. A balloon-tipped catheter is slipped over a guide wire and extended to the blockage site. When the catheter reaches the blockage, the balloon is inflated. As the balloon expands, it presses against the plaque, compressing it against the artery wall. The balloon is then deflated. Doctors may inflate and deflate the balloon several times. The catheter, guide wire, and deflated balloon are then removed.

If your doctor is placing a stent in the artery, the stent is affixed at the tip of the catheter, over the balloon. When the catheter is positioned at the blockage, the balloon is inflated, and the stent is expanded. Once the stent is open, the balloon is deflated. The catheter, guidewire, and deflated balloon are then removed, leaving the stent behind to hold the artery open.

The procedure usually takes about one to three hours and most patients will spend the night in the hospital.

University of Colorado Health Cardiology and Cardiothoracic Surgery is the region's leader in heart procedures, including ballon angioplasty and stents. For more information, call 970.221.1000.

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