Coronary angioplasty aims to widen narrowed blood vessels, to help increase the flow of blood to the heart. This decreases the risk of a heart attack, reduces the symptoms of angina, and slows the progress of coronary artery disease.
Alternatives to coronary angioplasty
Medication can only treat the symptoms of coronary artery disease and, unlike angioplasty, will not affect the progression of the disease. Coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG – more commonly known as "heart bypass") can be used to "get around" the narrowed sections of arteries.
For some people angioplasty will offer the best treatment and for others grafting will be more appropriate. Your doctor will advise you on which he thinks is best for you and can explain his opinion.
Risks of the procedure
Like any medical procedure, there will be some risk, but we advise patients to have the procedure because we believe that the benefits outweigh any risks. These may vary from patient to patient, but the most common complications associated with coronary angioplasty are:
Bruising and swelling
It's normal to have bruising and swelling in either the groin or the wrist - the two places where the catheter is normally inserted.- for a few days following coronary angioplasty. Occasionally, the swelling may increase and/or the wound becomes infected, but if this happens, we can typically treat the infection with a course of antibiotics.
Sometimes, patients have an allergic reaction to the dye (the dye is also referred to as 'contrast') used during the coronary angioplasty. We use dye to help us see the coronary arteries on x-rays. If you've had an allergic reaction to the dye before, let us know. Reactions are rare but can be treated.
The artery may become partially blocked - rarely during coronary angioplasty does the artery become completely blocked. Should this happen, an emergency coronary artery bypass operation would be performed.
Occasionally, patients may have a heart attack during their angioplasty procedure. this is a rare complication.
Although rare, sometimes, the catheter may damage a coronary artery. In these instances, we may need to perform emergency heart surgery in order to repair the damage.
Radiation is used as sparingly as possible and we believe the benefits far outweigh the risks to your health. If you have any concerns about X-rays or radiation, please just discuss them with us. Radiation affects growing cells, and so can be harmful to unborn babies. Female patients who are pregnant or think they may be pregnant, should tell us before their scan.
After the procedure
There are a number of things we would recommend you do following the angioplasty procedure, this include:
Getting someone to stay with you
Patients going home after angioplasty should have a responsible adult with them, ideally for the following 24-hours.
Looking after yourself
Your nurse will check your wound before you leave the hospital. For a few days after your procedure, please check your wound for any signs of excessive bruising, inflammation or swelling. If you see any of these, or if you are concerned, please call the ward using the contact numbers opposite. We may ask you to return to the ward so that we can look at your wound. It is important that you keep the wound clean and dry. Avoid using perfume, cream or talcum powder on or around the wound for at least a week. Please do not have a bath for at least 24 hours after your procedure. This may slow the healing process or cause the wound to bleed. However, it is fine to have a shower. If your wound starts to bleed, sit down and press firmly on it for 10 minutes. Once the bleeding has stopped, apply a plaster to the wound and leave it on for 24 hours. If it continues to bleed, please call your GP or go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department.
We recommend that you drink one and a half litres of fluid in the first few hours after your angioplasty. This will help your body to get rid of the dye used during the procedure.
It's important that you don't drive for at least a week after your angioplasty - this is a DVLA regulation. You should inform your insurance company that you have had an angiopplasty and stent procedure, but you don't need to inform the DVLA. If you have any questions about driving after your procedure, ask a member of the nursing team.
Please rest for a few days after your angioplasty. During the first two weeks, avoid lifting objects or doing any activities that could make you tired. If the procedure was carried out through your wrist, do not carry anything heavy in that hand for at least a week. If you were working before you were admitted to hospital, you may return to work one week after your angioplasty. Before you go home, the nursing team will answer any questions you may have about going back to work and other activities. You can also talk to your doctor.
We will give you antiplatelet (blood-thinning) drugs to take for up to a year after your angioplasty. It is important that you also take aspirin, which is usually continued for the rest of your life. These medicines help to reduce the risk of blood clots forming in the stent. This can happen if you stop taking these medicines too early. Please contact us if anyone advises you to stop taking them before the end of the period that we recommended to you. Before you go home, we will give you an antiplatelet card that tells you how long you need to take the antiplatelet drugs for. Please carry this with you at all times and show it to any healthcare professional looking after you.
Angina (chest pain)
It is possible that you may still experience some angina after your procedure. If you have any chest pain, please stop what you are doing and rest. If you normally use a GTN spray or take GTN tablets (nitrate spray/tablets used to relieve angina), and the pain does not go away with rest, take one spray or tablet. If you can still feel the pain after five minutes, repeat this and wait another five minutes. If the pain has still not gone away after 15 minutes, you should dial 999 immediately. If you experience a gradual return of your chest pain in the weeks after your procedure, please see your GP.