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What happens when you have a coronary angioplasty?

Before you have the angioplasty, you will be given a local anesthetic. A catheter (a fine, flexible, hollow tube), with a small inflatable balloon at its tip, is passed into an artery in your groin or wrist.

A radio-opaque dye (one that shows up on X-rays) is injected into the arteries so that the doctor can see where the blocked or narrowed arteries are. The dye can sometimes cause a hot, flushing sensation which lasts a few minutes. The operator then uses X-ray screening to insert the catheter to the affected coronary artery until the tip of the catheter lies across the narrowed or blocked section. The balloon is then gently inflated so that it squashes the fatty tissue that is causing the narrowing. As a a result, this widens the artery. For a few seconds while the balloon is being inflated, you may experience angina, but the pain eases very quickly when the balloon is let down again.

A second catheter, with a stent on its balloon, is then moved into position in the widened part of the artery. A stent is a short tube of stainless-steel mesh. As the balloon is inflated, the stent expands so that it holds open the narrowed blood vessel. The balloon is then let down and removed, leaving the stent in place.

Sometimes the angioplasty can be carried out using just one catheter instead of two. In this case, the stent can be inserted at the same time as the vessel is widened.

In the past, angioplasty was done without using stents, but stunting is now routine and is used in about 94 in 100 angioplasty procedures.Although it sounds simple, angioplasty can be technically difficult to do. The first part is similar to the coronary angiogram. However, it can take much longer to get the balloon catheter and stent into exactly the right position.