Medical Q&As

Angioplasty - how is it done?

My mam has to have an angioplasty. Could you tell me what it is and what it involves please? Will she have to be cut open?

Angioplasty is a procedure designed to relieve a blockage in the coronary arteries. The blockage in the coronary artery is produced by a plaque, which is a fatty deposit that is part of the inner lining of the artery. The plaque reduces the internal diameter of the coronary artery thereby reducing the flow of blood through that artery. Plaque formation is the essential feature of the condition we commonly refer to as hardening of the arteries. It is somewhat analogous to limescale deposits inside a home water supply system that reduces water flow through the pipes. You cannot scour out the inside of a coronary artery but you can increase the diameter of the narrowed artery by removing or compressing the plaque from within the wall of the artery. This is usually achieved by inflating a special balloon within the artery at the critical point of narrowing. The procedure is broadly similar to an angiogram, which I have described in a previous Ask the Doctor question. Your mother will not have to be opened because the special balloon catheter is introduced into the arterial system through the femoral artery in the groin. The catheter is then threaded up from the groin and into the coronary artery. The procedure is performed under local anaesthesia meaning that the site where the catheter is introduced in the groin is rendered free of pain through the use of a local anaesthetic injection. Angioplasty was first performed 20 years ago and is now widely performed thereby obviating the need for the more invasive procedure of coronary artery bypass graft.