What Is Coronary Angioplasty?

Updated:Dec 8,2015
Your heart’s arteries can become blocked or narrowed from a buildup of cholesterol, cells or other substances (plaque). This can reduce blood flow to your heart and cause chest discomfort. Sometimes a blood clot can suddenly form or get worse and completely block blood flow, leading to a heart attack.

Angioplasty opens blocked arteries and restores normal blood flow to your heart muscle.

It is not major surgery. It is done by threading a catheter (thin tube) through a small puncture in a leg or arm artery to the heart. The blocked artery is opened by inflating a tiny balloon in it.

Why do I need it?

People with blockages in their heart arteries may need angioplasty if they are having lots of discomfort in their chest, or if their blockages put them at risk of a heart attack or of dying.

How is it done?
  1. A doctor numbs a spot on your groin or arm and inserts a small tube (catheter) into an artery.
  2. The catheter is threaded through the arterial system until it gets into a coronary (heart) artery.
  3. Watching on a special X-ray screen, the doctor moves the catheter into the artery. Next, a very thin wire is threaded through the catheter and across the blockage. Over this wire, a catheter with a thin, expandable balloon on the end is passed to the blockage.
  4. The balloon is inflated. It pushes plaque to the side and stretches the artery open, so blood can flow more easily. This may be done more than once.
  5. In many patients a collapsed wire mesh tube (stent), mounted on a special balloon, is moved over the wire to the blocked area.
  6. As the balloon is inflated, it opens the stent against the artery walls. The stent locks in this position and helps keep the artery open.
  7. The balloon and catheters are taken out. Now the artery has been opened, and your heart will get the blood it needs.
Does angioplasty hurt?
  • No, angioplasty causes very little pain. The doctor will numb the place where the catheter will be inserted. You may feel some pressure as the catheter is put in.
  • You’ll be awake and alert but may be given medicine to help you relax.
  • The place where the catheter was put in may be sore afterwards. Bruising is also common. If you notice any bleeding or increasing pain or swelling, tell your doctor.

What about afterwards?
  • When the tube is removed from your leg or arm, a nurse or doctor will usually apply direct pressure for 15 minutes or longer to the place where the catheter was inserted to ensure there’s no internal bleeding.
  • If angioplasty is done through the leg, for several hours you’ll lie quietly on your back and the doctors and nurses will check for any signs of bleeding or chest discomfort. If the procedure is done through the arm, you won’t need to remain in bed.
  • You’ll almost always have to stay in the hospital for a night to rest. Sometimes a longer stay is required.
  • There’s a small risk that a blood clot will form inside the stent, blocking blood flow in the artery. Your doctor will prescribe aspirin or other medicine to help prevent this.
  • Avoid heavy lifting or vigorous physical activity for 1-2 days after the procedure.
  • Learn about the risk factors you need to change to keep your heart healthy.

How can I learn more?
  1. Call 1-800-AHA-USA1 (1-800-242-8721), or visit heart.org to learn more about heart disease and stroke.
  2. Sign up to get Heart Insight, a free magazine for heart patients and their families, at heartinsight.org.
  3. Connect with others sharing similar journeys with heart disease and stroke by joining our Support Network at heart.org/supportnetwork.
We have many other fact sheets to help you make healthier choices to reduce your risk, manage disease or care for a loved one. Visit heart.org/answersbyheart to learn more.

Do you have questions or comments for your doctor or nurse?

Take a few minutes to write your own questions for the next time you see your healthcare provider. For example:

Will I need angioplasty again?

Could anything go wrong?

©2015, American Heart Association

Multi-language Fact Sheet Topics

Heart-related Conditions
What is Angina?
What is an Arrhythmia?
What Is Atrial Fibrillation?
What Do My Cholesterol Levels Mean?
How Can I Improve My Cholesterol?
What Are High Blood Cholesterol and Triglycerides?
What Is High Blood Pressure?
How Can I Reduce High Blood Pressure?
High Blood Pressure and Stroke
What Is Diabetes and How Can I Manage It?
How Can I Live With Heart Failure?
What Is Heart Failure?
What Is a Heart Attack?
How Will I Recover From My Heart Attack?
What Are the Warning Signs of Heart Attack?
What Are Heart Disease and Stroke?
What is Metabolic Syndrome?
What is Peripheral Vascular Disease?

Stroke, Recovery and Caregiving
Hemorrhagic Stroke
Ischemic Stroke
Stroke, TIA and Warning Signs
What Are the Warning Signs of Stroke?
Stroke Risk Factors
Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Stroke
Stroke Diagnosis
Complications After Stroke
Changes Caused by Stroke
Emotional Changes After Stroke
Feeling Tired After a Stroke
Stroke and Aphasia
Stroke and Rehabilitation
Stroke Family Caregivers
How Should I Care for Myself as a Caregiver?

Treatment, Tests and Procedures
What is Cholesterol-Lowering Medicine?
What is High Blood Pressure Medicine?
What Are Anticoagulants and Antiplatelet Agents?
How Do I Manage My Medicines?
What Is an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator?
What Is a Pacemaker?
What Is Coronary Angioplasty?
What is a Stent?
What is Coronary Bypass Surgery?
What is a Coronary Angiogram?
How Can I Recover From Heart Surgery?
What is Carotid Endarterectomy?

Healthy Lifestyle and Risk Reduction
How Can I Manage My Weight?
How Can Physical Activity Become a Way of Life?
Why Should I Be Physically Active?
How Do I Follow a Healthy Diet?
How Can I Cook Healthfully?
Why Should I Limit Sodium?
How Do I Understand "Nutrition Facts" Labels?
How Can I Quit Smoking?
How Can I Manage Stress?
How Can I Make My Lifestyle Healthier?
How Can I Monitor My Cholesterol, Blood Pressure and Weight?