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Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the
Harvard Medical School

What Is It?

Angioplasty is a procedure in which a tiny device is inserted into narrowed blood vessels that supply blood to the heart. This device widens the arteries and increases blood flow.

Balloon angioplasty, also known as percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA), uses a small, thin tube (called a catheter) with a tiny balloon at its tip. The tube is inserted into the bloodstream through a large vessel in the arm or leg. By watching the progress of the tube on an X-ray, the cardiologist guides the tube into the heart, where it is inserted into a narrowed coronary artery. The tiny balloon is then inflated to widen the narrowed area.

During most of these procedures, cardiologists also insert a metal wire frame that serves as a scaffolding to help keep the artery open. This device is called a stent. A blocked artery is less likely to close up if a stent is in place. Even with a stent in place, the artery can still close up.

There are two types of stents:

  • Bare metal stents

  • Drug coated stents

Even with a stent in place, the artery can still close up. A blood clot can form inside the stent or later scar tissue can build up narrowing the artery. With both types of stents, you must take anti-platelet drugs to prevent blood clot formation. The drug coated stents inhibit tissue overgrowth. But they require you take anti-platelet drugs for a longer period of time compared to bare metal stents.

Atherectomy uses a device to cut into the plaque, physically removing it from the lining of the affected blood vessel. This is often done along with balloon angioplasty or stenting.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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