Percutaneous (per-ku-TA-ne-us) coronary intervention (PCI), commonly known as coronary angioplasty (AN-jee-oh-plas-tee) or simply angioplasty, is a non-surgical procedure used to open narrow or blocked coronary (heart) arteries. Percutaneous means “through the skin.” The procedure is done by inserting a thin flexible tube (catheter) through the skin in the upper thigh or arm in the artery. The procedure restores blood flow to the heart muscle.
As you age, a waxy substance called plaque (plak) can build up inside your arteries. 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.
Over time, plaque can harden or rupture (break open). Hardened plaque narrows the coronary arteries and reduces the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart. This can cause chest pain or discomfort called angina (an-JI-nuh or AN-juh-nuh).
If the plaque ruptures, a blood clot can form on its surface. A large blood clot can mostly or completely block blood flow through a coronary artery. This is the most common cause of aheart attack. Over time, ruptured plaque also hardens and narrows the coronary arteries.
PCI can restore blood flow to the heart. During the procedure, a thin, flexible catheter (tube) with a balloon at its tip is threaded through a blood vessel to the affected artery. Once in place, the balloon is inflated to compress the plaque against the artery wall. This restores blood flow through the artery.
Doctors may use the procedure to improve symptoms of CHD, such as angina. The procedure also can reduce heart muscle damage caused by a heart attack.
Leaving hospital after an angioplasty
Most people can go home the same day or the next day, but if you’ve had an emergency angioplasty it’s likely you’ll need to stay in hospital for longer.
When you get home, check the area where the catheter was inserted. Expect to have some bruising and tenderness, but if you get any redness or swelling, or if the bruising worsens, contact your doctor.
Before you leave hospital, someone will have a chat with you about your recovery and what you can and can’t do. It’s normal to feel tired afterwards but most people find that they’re back to normal after a few days. However if you’ve also had a heart attack, it will take longer to recover.
- It’s best to avoid doing any demanding activities, such as heavy lifting, for a week or so.
- You shouldn’t drive for at least a week after having angioplasty – longer if you also had a heart attack.
- If you’ve had a planned angioplasty with no complications you may be able to return to work within a few days, depending on the type of work you do.
- If you’ve had an emergency angioplasty or a heart attack you may need to take a few weeks off.
You should also be invited to go on a cardiac rehabilitation program, a course of exercise and information sessions that help you to recover as quickly as possible.
If you have a stent, you’ll need to take certain anti-platelet drugs (such as aspirin or clopidegrel) to help reduce the risk of blood clots forming in and around the stent.
Stents are not affected by security systems at airports or MRI scans.
Serious complications from PCI don’t occur often. However, they can happen no matter how careful your doctor is or how well he or she does the procedure. The most common complications are discomfort and bleeding at the catheter insertion site.
Research on PCI is ongoing to make it safer and more effective and to prevent treated arteries from narrowing again.