Coronary angioplasty is a medical procedure in which a balloon is used to open a blockage in a coronary (heart) artery narrowed by atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a condition in which a material called plaque builds up on the inner walls of the arteries. This can happen in any artery, including the coronary arteries. The coronary arteries carry oxygen-rich blood to your heart. When atherosclerosis affects the coronary arteries, the condition is called coronary artery disease (CAD).

An angioplasty procedure improves blood flow to the heart. it is used when the coronary heart arteries have become narrowed or blocked because of coronary heart disease. Angioplasty usually is the fastest way to open a blocked artery and is the best approach during a heart attack.

Angioplasty is a common medical procedure, used to:

  • Improve symptoms of CAD, such as angina and shortness of breath.
  • Reduce damage to the heart muscle from a heart attack. Angioplasty is used during a heart attack to open the blockage and restore blood flow through the artery.
  • Reduce the risk of death in some patients.

Doctors sometimes prefer to use angioplasty instead of a coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG). Compared with CABG, some advantages of angioplasty are that it:

  • Doesn't require an incision
  • Doesn't require general anesthesia
  • Has a shorter recovery time

What Happens During Angioplasty

During angiography, a small tube (or tubes) called a catheter is inserted in an artery, usually in the groin (upper thigh). The catheter is threaded to the coronary arteries.

Special dye, which can be seen on an x ray, is injected through the catheter. X-ray pictures are taken as the dye flows through your coronary arteries. This outlines blockages, if any are present, and tells your doctor the location and extent of the blockages.

For the angioplasty procedure, another catheter with a balloon on its tip (a balloon catheter) is inserted in the coronary artery and positioned in the blockage. The balloon is then expanded. This pushes the plaque against the artery wall, relieving the blockage and improving blood flow.

A small mesh tube called a stent usually is placed in the artery during angioplasty. The stent is wrapped around the deflated balloon catheter before the catheter is inserted in the artery.

When the balloon is inflated to compress the plaque, the stent expands and attaches to the artery wall. The stent supports the inner artery wall and reduces the chance of the artery becoming narrowed or blocked again.

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


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