Angioplasty: Common Questions

What is angioplasty?

Coronary balloon angioplasty is an invasive method of opening blocked arteries that might impede flow to the heart, and possibly result in heart attack or death. It is more formally known as percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA): percutaneous means "through the skin," transluminal means "inside the blood vessel," coronary means "relating to the heart," and angioplasty means "blood vessel repair." Other techniques to relieve coronary narrowing, such as stents, are called percutanous coronary interventions (PCI).

Angioplasty involves creating space in the blocked artery by inserting and inflating a tiny balloon, which compresses some of the blocking plaque against the arterial wall. When the balloon is deflated and removed, the plaque still remains compressed, clearing space in the artery and improving blood flow. While angioplasty does not always completely clear an artery, more than 90 percent of all procedures are immediately successful.

Since angioplasty is a less invasive procedure than bypass surgery, it has a quicker recovery period than bypass. However, it is not recommended for all patients. Candidates for angioplasty are chosen based on a patient's age, physical history, and severity of the blockage or damage. The American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) have guidelines for prospective angioplasty patients. Your cardiologist will have reviewed these before recommending the procedure for you.

Angioplasty was first performed in 1977, and more than 1 million procedures are done worldwide each year. If this is an elective procedure, the AHA and ACC recommend that you choose a doctor who performs at least 75 procedures each year, at a hospital with a cardiovascular surgical program that handles more than 400 angioplasty cases every year.


Studies suggest that angioplasty patients are doing better today because doctors are better able to target blockages, and because patients are getting better medical treatment through new techniques and drug therapies. The success is due in part to the increased use of tiny wire mesh tubes called stents, which more cardiologists began using in the 1990s to help keep arteries open following angioplasty. These stents form an internal scaffolding to keep the angioplastied vessel from closing. About 70 to 90 percent of all angioplasty patients receive a stent, which is inserted permanently at the site of the blockage.

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