What is angioplasty?


Angioplasty, also known as percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), is a nonsurgical procedure that uses a thin, flexible catheter placed through the skin into an artery in the groin or arm. A balloon on the end of the catheter is positioned in the narrowed coronary artery and inflated to open up the blockage. A stent is a metal mesh tube that is left behind to help keep the artery from collapsing. Drugs attached to the stent help prevent the body from reacting to the stent and shutting down the artery again.

Angioplasty is a procedure performed by an interventional cardiologist to reopen a clogged or blocked artery for blood flow. During the procedure, a catheter (a thin, flexible tube) is inserted through a puncture site in the skin and threaded through the artery to the site of a blockage. Very thin wires are then advanced beyond the blockage and a small balloon is opened to push the blockage out of the way to restore blood flow. A stent—a metal, mesh tube—may be placed in the artery during the procedure to permanently prop the artery open. Angioplasty is successful in the treatment of 95 to 98 of every 100 patients. If you are having a heart attack and are able to receive angioplasty soon enough, it can stop the heart attack and possibly save your life.

Angioplasty is performed in a hospital's catheterization lab by a specially trained heart doctor called an interventional cardiologist. The interventional cardiologist will use a small needle to inject lidocaine, a local anesthetic, to numb an area in the groin, or upper leg, or in the arm. The femoral artery in the groin—near where your leg bends from the hip—is one of the vessels doctors most commonly use to insert a catheter (a flexible tube that is smaller than the vessels) and thread it through the arteries to the heart to perform the angioplasty. Or your doctor may choose to insert the catheter in the brachial or radial artery in the inside of the elbow or wrist.

From this “access” point in your leg or arm, a “guiding” catheter is threaded through the arteries to your heart. An X-ray camera and images of your arteries on a television screen help the physician guide the catheter to the blockage. When the guiding catheter is properly positioned, the interventional cardiologist injects contrast through the catheter into the heart and its arteries. Most people do not feel this injection. However, some feel minor discomfort, typically lasting only a few seconds, in their chest. A few feel lightheaded or nauseous. Next, a balloon catheter—a long, thin flexible tube with a small uninflated balloon at its tip—is threaded through the guiding catheter to where the artery is narrowed. A tiny guidewire of about .014 inches in diameter is then passed across the narrowed segment. It serves as a guide for positioning the tiny balloon across the blockage.

Once in position, the balloon is inflated with saline and contrast. When fully inflated, the balloon pushes the plaque that is blocking blood flow against the wall of the artery. Some patients feel minor discomfort when it is inflated. If you have more than minor discomfort, medication to relieve it can be given immediately. As the balloon inflates, plaque that extends into the wall of the artery may tear or crack. This is normal and necessary. Once the balloon is deflated, X-ray pictures are taken ensure the blockage is gone. When the balloon catheter is removed, final X-ray pictures are made.

Dr. Ravi H. Dave, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Angioplasty is a procedure that entails opening of a blockage in an artery using balloons and specialized drills, ultimately finishing with placement of a stents.

Coronary angioplasty is a medical procedure to open a narrowed or blocked artery and improve blood flow to the heart. Coronary angioplasty is often recommended for people who have atherosclerosis (the build-up of plaque on artery walls), to reduce symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath, and to lower the risk of heart damage, heart attack and death.

Also known as percutaneous ("through the skin") coronary intervention or PCI, the procedure involves inserting a thin, flexible tube called a catheter into a blood vessel in the thigh or arm. The catheter is then threaded to the affected coronary artery. The catheter is equipped with a medical balloon on its tip, which is inflated to push aside the plaque that is blocking the artery, open the artery and restore normal blood flow to the heart.

In some people, a small mesh tube called a stent is placed in the newly opened blocked artery. The stent locks in place to hold the artery open and prevent narrowing of the artery from recurring.

Dr. Marty Denny, MD
Interventional Cardiologist

Angioplasty is the opening up of an artery with a balloon. This can be the heart artery. It can be leg arteries. It can be kidney arteries. It can be arteries to your stomach or your intestines. It can be your carotid arteries to your brain. Angioplasty just means artery opening, and this is done traditionally with a balloon. The first angioplasty was performed by Andreas Gruentzig in the late 1970s. Starting in the early 1990s, stents were developed as well as other techniques to open the arteries up. At this time, the state of the art is a balloon angioplasty with stent placement.

Angioplasty is a treatment in which a catheter with a deflated balloon at the tip is inserted into a narrowed artery. The balloon is then inflated at the narrowed section to help widen the artery and improve blood flow.

Angioplasty is a nonsurgical procedure that can unblock an artery in the heart and return blood flow to near-normal levels. The procedure begins with an incision in a major artery in the body, often the leg. A tiny tube, called a catheter, is put into the artery and through the body until it reaches the blockage. At the end of the catheter is a balloon. The balloon is inflated, which pushes the blockage along the artery wall, widening the artery so blood flow can progress more normally.


Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Angioplasty is a procedure to reduce the narrowing of coronary arteries due to plaque. The plaque is pushed to the inside walls of the artery to widen the area for blood to flow. A stent may be inserted to keep the artery open. Watch this animation to see how this is done.


A relatively recent—and increasingly popular—treatment for atherosclerotic arterial diseases is transluminal angioplasty, also referred to as balloon angioplasty. Used to treat severely blocked coronary arteries as well as arteries diseased with atherosclerotic plaque in other parts of the body, this technique involves threading a catheter with an inflatable balloon like tip through the artery to the area of blockage. The balloon is inflated, flattening the fatty deposits and widening the arterial channel, allowing more blood to reach the heart muscle.

Percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA), better known as angioplasty, revolutionized cardiology. The technique lets doctors open narrowed or blocked coronary arteries with special thin tubes called catheters that carry inflatable balloons. The term angioplasty refers to the reshaping of the narrowed segment of a blood vessel in the course of the procedure. Most angioplasty procedures also involve the placement of one or more stents. These are metal mesh tubes that serve as scaffolds to help hold arteries open.

Angioplasty is often appropriate following a heart attack. It is the most effective way to treat people with ST-elevation heart attacks. To be effective, angioplasty must be done early—ideally within 90 minutes of the start of symptoms, but certainly within 24 hours.

Dr. John C. Lipman, MD
Vascular & Interventional Radiologist

Angioplasty is the general term which describes dilating a vessel; either artery or vein. In arterial angioplasty, the artery is most commonly narrowed due to atherosclerosis (fatty deposits that develop in the wall of the artery). If the artery remains narrowed after angioplasty, a metallic scaffold (stent) can be placed in an attempt to improve blood flow.

Angioplasty, also called percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) or balloon angioplasty, is a procedure used to remove a blockage in a blood vessel to the heart (coronary angioplasty) or the brain (carotid angioplasty). A small tube with a balloon attached is threaded into the narrowed or blocked blood vessel. Then the balloon is inflated, opening the narrowed artery. A wire mesh tube, called a stent, may be left in place to help keep the artery open. Angioplasty may be done during a heart attack.

Percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), or coronary angioplasty, is a nonsurgical procedure that can open blocked or narrowed coronary arteries. A thin, flexible tube with a balloon or other device attached to the end will be threaded through one of the blood vessels up to the affected artery. Once in place, the balloon is inflated to create a larger opening and restore blood flow through the artery. During the procedure, the person may also have a small mesh tube, called a stent, placed into the artery. The stent helps prevent further blockages.

This content originally appeared online in "The Patient Guide to Heart, Lung, and Esophageal Surgery" from the Society of Thoracic Surgery.

Dr. Cres P. Miranda, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Angioplasty is a nonsurgical method of opening up narrowed arteries, says Cres Miranda, MD, a cardiologist at MountainView Hospital. In this video, he explains the risks of angioplasty.

Continue Learning about Heart and Circulatory System

Heart and Circulatory System

Heart and Circulatory System

Your circulatory system is made up of your heart and three main types of blood vessels -- arteries, veins and capillaries. Your heart is at the center of the system, acting as a pump to distribute nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood t...

hrough your body; it then takes away carbon dioxide and other waste your body doesn't need. Signs of poor circulation include cold hands and feet, numbness, dizziness, migraines, varicose veins and pain in your feet or legs. Untreated, poor circulation can lead to stroke, high blood pressure, kidney damage and other diseases. Learn more about your heart and circulatory system with expert advice from Sharecare.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.