Angioplasty may be recommended to widen a narrowed artery or to open a small blockage by pressing the plaque against the artery wall. Angioplasty usually takes one to two hours to perform. Before the procedure actually begins, an intravenous line may be started in your arm. The skin where the catheters (thin, flexible tubes) are inserted will be numbed. You will be awake, but you are given medications to help you relax.
A catheter with a small balloon on the tip is inserted into the artery to widen the passageway. The doctor guides the balloon into position by watching an image of your artery on a video monitor. Then a thin guide wire is passed through the catheter into the artery. Next, a balloon-tipped catheter is inserted into the artery, threaded over the guide wire, and moved to the spot where the artery begins to narrow.
The balloon is then inflated and deflated several times to crack the plaque and press it against the artery wall. This may cause the artery to expand slightly. The balloon is deflated and the catheters are removed when the blockage has been opened. The artery is now wider and blood can flow again.
Several other procedures use catheters and special drugs or devices to improve blood flow in severely damaged arteries. Thrombolytic drugs may be used to dissolve a small clot. A thrombectomy may be done to remove a clot from an artery. Following angioplasty, small metal frames called stents may be placed inside the artery to hold the walls open.