Coronary artery angioplasty with stent is a minimally invasive treatment for opening coronary arteries—the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart—that are blocked or narrowed by fatty-plaque buildup from coronary heart disease (CHD).

The procedure involves temporarily inserting a tiny balloon and wire-mesh coil (stent) into the blocked or narrowed artery in your heart. The balloon is then inflated to break up and flatten the blockage against the artery wall, widening the artery. After the balloon is deflated and removed, the stent will help to keep the artery open. Because it involves only a small puncture or incision, recovery time is often much shorter than in more invasive procedures, like coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG).

Who Needs Coronary Artery Angioplasty With Stent?

Angioplasty with stent could make a big difference if you are:

  • Having a heart attack. It could save your life and lessen damage to your heart.
  • Having CHD symptoms, such as chest pain and shortness of breath. Most people see improvement right away.

Overall, the decision to treat CHD with angioplasty with stent is based on the patient’s age and medical history, and the severity of the coronary artery blockage or damage. Your doctor may recommend angioplasty with stent if you have CHD and one or more of the following situations apply to you:

  • You’re still having CHD symptoms despite taking medication and making healthier lifestyle choices
  • You can’t take symptom-relieving medications because of their side effects or interactions with other medications
  • You’re having a heart attack or symptoms of one
  • You have coronary artery blockage that could cause a heart attack or that occurs during or after you have one

What Are the Risks Associated with Coronary Artery Angioplasty With Stent?

Angioplasty with stent is generally safe. The complications that may occur include the following.

During the procedure:

  • Additional blockages due to breakaway of fatty-plaque particles that travel to other arteries
  • Puncturing of the heart or a blood vessel
  • Blockage of the blood vessel where the balloon and stent were first inserted
  • Bleeding
  • Allergic reaction to the stent material or x-ray dye used during the procedure
  • Rare complications include heart attack, arrhythmias, stroke and damage to the artery from tearing or rupture during the procedure

After the procedure:

  • Returning narrowing or blockage of the affected artery, usually within 3-6 months after the procedure
  • Rarely, blood clotting in the stent
  • Infection at the insertion site

Fortunately, although these risks exist and angioplasty with stent doesn’t cure CHD, many people who have the procedure achieve improved blood flow through the heart, get relief from CHD symptoms, and avoid the need for CABG surgery.

Although about 600,000 Americans a year have this procedure, some people with coronary artery narrowing or blockage do not need angioplasty with stent. Some can be treated with lifestyle changes and medication, particularly if only one artery is affected. In more severe cases, like those where the main artery on the left side of the heart is blocked, CABG surgery may be needed.

Who Performs Coronary Artery Angioplasty With Stent?

Angioplasty with stent is typically done in a hospital or the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory in a medical center by a cardiologist—or heart specialist—trained in performing this invasive interventional procedure. Doctors called interventional radiologists, who have advanced training in minimally invasive treatments using imaging techniques, may also perform angioplasty with stent.

The cardiologist performing the procedure is assisted by a specially trained team including:

  • Additional cardiologists
  • Nurses
  • Technicians