Angioplasty is used to widen arteries, which are narrowed by stenosis or occlusions. This procedure is helpful in many ways, like clearing of plaque from coronary arteries, emergency relief from a heart attack that is in progress, and widening narrowed arteries in limbs, such as the femoral or iliac artery to the leg. It is also useful in relieving chest pain caused by narrowing down of coronary arteries.
Angioplasty was earlier done by dilating the blood vessel with the introduction of larger stiff catheters through the narrowed space. However, complications involved in this procedure gave motive to scientists and researchers to develop a means of widening the vessel using a minimally sized device. Now, lasers may be used to assist in the breakup of fat or calcium plaque and catheters may also be equipped with spinning wires or drill tips to clean out the plaque.
Balloon angioplasty uses a thin tube, or catheter, which is passed into an artery, through a cut in the upper leg or the arm. The catheter is maneuvered into the artery, and a balloon on the tip of the catheter is inflated. The balloon pushes against the plaque and flattens it, thus, widening the artery.
This improves the flow of blood in the artery. It is normal for a patient to have pain in the chest when the balloon is inserted. The movements of the catheter can be easily seen and recorded by the doctors on an X-ray screen. This helps in guiding the tube through the heart and into a narrowed coronary artery.
In the laser technique, a thin and flexible plastic tube called a catheter, with a laser at its tip, is used. It is inserted into an artery that opens into coronary arteries blocked by plaque, a build-up of cholesterol, cells and other fatty substances in an artery's inner lining.
Then the plastic tube is advanced through the artery to the blockage in the coronary artery, and it emits pulsating beams of light from where the laser is in position. These lasers help in vaporizing the plaque. Laser technology can be used alone, or in combination with balloon angioplasty. If used along with balloon angioplasty, the balloon is inserted first to attack the hard plaque.
In case of atherectomy, special instruments are used to cut away the plaque. This technique is very useful in the treatment of blockages that may be too hard or inaccessible for balloon angioplasty. People with plaque buildups in the carotid arteries are at higher risk for stroke. Atherectomy is an effective procedure that can help patients by removing the plaque, which in turn reduces the risk of stroke. The different forms of atherectomy are:
- Extraction Atherectomy: In this procedure, a tiny rotating blade is used, which works in almost the same way as a cutter on a food processor, to cut away blockages.
- Rotational Atherectomy: In this procedure, a high-speed, diamond-tipped drill is used to penetrate the fatty deposits.
- Directional Atherectomy: In this procedure, a device that is a combination of a balloon and a shaving blade is used, to shave off the deposits.
Stents were first approved in 1993, and since then, have gained widespread acceptance. They are small and expandable metal devices, which are inserted by a catheter into a narrowed artery. This process is done after the procedure is complete. Stents are left in place, in order to keep the artery from closing again. They are generally used in combination with balloon angioplasty. A patient can (rarely) develop blood clots as a result of the use of stents. This problem generally occurs in people with weak hearts.
Angioplasty is advantageous as the artery is returned to normal size without resorting to major surgery.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.