What procedures can address blocked arteries?

Your doctor may discuss a number of procedures with you, if your coronary arteries become dangerously blocked. They include:

  • Angioplasty: In this procedure, a tiny balloon is used to open a clogged artery. An incision is made near the groin and a balloon catheter is threaded up through an artery into the heart. Doctors then inject dye and search for blockages. Once the blockages are found, the doctors put the catheter through the blockage narrowing and inflate the balloon. This procedure will not stop the arteries from hardening again, but the procedure will lessen the pain and other symptoms of coronary artery disease by increasing the blood flow.
  • Stenting: Sometimes, either in addition to or instead of an angioplasty, a plastic or metal plastic tube is used to prop open a blocked artery. These tubes are called stents. Doctors may perform stenting or angioplasty on a patient before a heart attack, during a heart attack or after one. Some cardiologists prefer stenting without angioplasty. The drawback of stenting is that sometimes stents can clog, just like arteries.
  • Coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) is another procedure that can be used to treat blocked arteries. During a CABG, your heart is stopped and you are placed on artificial respiration. A vein or artery that will not be missed too much is taken from another part of your body (such as from your arm or leg). Surgeons then attach one end of the graft to the aorta and the other end to the troubled artery on the far side of the blockage. This creates a detour that enables your blood to bypass the blockage.

Most grafts work for 10 to 15 years. When you hear of double-, triple- or quadruple-bypass surgery, it is a reference to how many arteries received bypass grafts.

An angioplasty may be recommended to treat blockages within your arteries. An angioplasty is performed when a very thin wire and a small balloon are passed across the blockage in your artery. The balloon is inflated to push the plaque apart. While the balloon is inflated, you may feel some cramping pain. This is only temporary and will go away once the balloon is deflated. After the balloon is deflated, the blockages will be smaller, allowing blood to flow.

Other procedures can help the doctor remove large blockages or blood clots from the artery. With some blockages a special drill may be used to soften the blockages before a balloon or stent is placed. Doctors may also use a camera that takes pictures within the artery called an intravascular ultrasound, or IVUS. The IVUS camera may also take measurements within the artery.

Sometimes a patient's bypass arteries have blockages. The doctor may use a small filter to keep fragments of the blockages from breaking off inside the artery. A stent can then be placed in the bypass artery.

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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.