What Is Percutaneous Coronary Intervention?

Coronary angioplasty (AN-jee-oh-plas-tee) is a procedure used to open blocked or narrowed coronary (heart) arteries. The procedure improves blood flow to the heart muscle.

Over time, a fatty substance called plaque (plak) can build up in your arteries, causing them to harden and narrow. This condition is called atherosclerosis (ath-er-o-skler-O-sis).

Atherosclerosis can affect any artery in the body. When atherosclerosis affects the coronary arteries, the condition is called coronary heart disease (CHD) or coronary artery disease.

Angioplasty can restore blood flow to the heart if the coronary arteries have become narrowed or blocked because of CHD.

Angioplasty is a common medical procedure. It may be used to:

  • Improve symptoms of CHD, such as angina (an-JI-nuh or AN-juh-nuh) and shortness of breath. (Angina is chest pain or discomfort.)
  • Reduce damage to the heart muscle caused by a heart attack. A heart attack occurs if blood flow through a coronary artery is completely blocked. The blockage usually is due to a blood clot that forms on the surface of plaque. During angioplasty, a small balloon is expanded inside the coronary artery to relieve the blockage.
  • Reduce the risk of death in some patients.

Angioplasty is done on more than 1 million people a year in the United States. Serious complications don’t occur often. However, they can happen no matter how careful your doctor is or how well he or she does the procedure.

Research on angioplasty is ongoing to make it safer and more effective, to prevent treated arteries from narrowing again, and to make the procedure an option for more people.

What Is a Stent?

A stent is a small mesh tube that’s used to treat narrow or weak arteries. Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood away from your heart to other parts of your body.

A stent is placed in an artery as part of a procedure called percutaneous (per-ku-TA-ne-us) coronary intervention (PCI), sometimes referred to ascoronary angioplasty (AN-jee-oh-plas-tee). PCI restores blood flow through narrow or blocked arteries. A stent helps support the inner wall of the artery in the months or years after PCI.

Doctors also may place stents in weak arteries to improve blood flow and help prevent the arteries from bursting.

Stents usually are made of metal mesh, but sometimes they’re made of fabric. Fabric stents, also called stent grafts, are used in larger arteries.

Some stents are coated with medicine that is slowly and continuously released into the artery. These stents are called drug-eluting stents. The medicine helps prevent the artery from becoming blocked again.

Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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