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Heart artery dilation

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Normal Anatomy

Normal Anatomy
The coronary arteries supply blood to the heart muscle.



Fat and cholesterol accumulates on the inside of arteries (atherosclerosis). The small arteries of the heart muscle (the coronary arteries) can be narrowed or blocked by this accumulation. If the narrowing is small, it may be treated with a balloon catheter rather than major surgery. This is a small, hollow, flexible tube that has a balloon near the end of it.

The indications for heart artery dilatation (angioplasty) are:

  • persistent chest pain (angina)
  • blockage of only one or two coronary arteries



While the patient is awake and pain-free (local anesthesia), the catheter is inserted into an artery at the top of the leg (the femoral artery). X-ray pictures are taken to view the catheter as it is passed up the artery, into the aorta, and into the blocked coronary artery. The small balloon at the end of the catheter is inflated and widens the area of the blockage, restoring adequate blood flow through the artery to the heart muscle.

Rarely, a device called a stent may be placed. This is a small tube that is placed within the coronary artery to keep the vessel open. One type is made of self-expanding, stainless steel mesh. (A stent may also be used after coronary artery bypass graft surgery.)



This procedure can greatly improve the blood flow through the coronary arteries and to the heart tissue in about 90% of patients and may eliminate the need for coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG). The outcome is relief from chest pain symptoms and an improved exercise capacity. In 2 out of 3 cases, the procedure is considered successful with complete elimination of the narrowing or blockage.

This procedure treats the condition but does not cure the cause and recurrences happen in 1 out of 5 cases. Patients should consider diet, exercise, and stress reduction measures.

If adequate widening of the narrowing is not accomplished, heart surgery (coronary artery bypass graft surgery, also called a CABG) may be recommended.

The average hospital stay is less than 3 days and sometimes hospital stay is not required. Complete recovery takes a week or less.

Review Date: 6/25/2001
Reviewed By: A.D.A.M. Medical Illustration Team


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