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How It's Done

An area of your arm or groin will be cleaned and shaved. This is so the site will be sterile before the catheter is inserted. You also will have an intravenous (IV) line placed into a vein in your arm to deliver fluids and medications, and you will be given medicine to help you relax. The site on your arm or groin where the catheter will be inserted will be cleaned with an antiseptic solution. Then, the catheter will be inserted into a large blood vessel.

The surgeon then guides the catheter by watching its movement on an X-ray. Once the catheter has reached your heart, it is guided into the narrowed coronary artery. If you're having balloon angioplasty, the balloon will be inflated for 20 to 30 seconds. This pushes the plaque against the artery walls, allowing more blood to move through. If a stent is being used, the balloon will expand inside the stent, and push it outward against the wall of the artery. The balloon is deflated and the catheter is pulled back.

Next, an X-ray dye will be injected into the artery. This makes it possible for the surgeon to see if blood is moving through and if the procedure was successful. You will receive blood-thinning medications to decrease the chance that the blockage will re-close immediately.

After the procedure, the catheter is removed, and you return to your hospital room or coronary care unit where your heart rate, pulse and blood pressure are monitored. Your doctor will tell you when you can start eating and drinking again. You will need to stay in the hospital for one to three days.

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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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