Angioplasty restores blood flow to your heart by widening arteries that have become blocked by plaque. Doctors insert a small, deflated balloon into a blood vessel and move it to the blocked artery. Once the balloon is in place, doctors inflate the balloon, which pushes the plaque to the edge of the artery wall so the heart receives proper blood flow again.

What is Coronary Angioplasty?

Coronary angioplasty (AN-jee-oh-plas-tee) is a medical procedure used to restore blood flow through a narrowed or blocked artery in the heart. The arteries of the heart (the coronary arteries) can become narrowed and blocked due to buildup of a material called plaque on their inner walls. This narrowing reduces the flow of blood through the artery and can lead, over time, to coronary artery disease and heart attack.

In angioplasty, a thin tube with a balloon or other device on the end is first threaded through a blood vessel in the arm or groin (upper thigh) up to the site of a narrowing or blockage in a coronary artery. Once in place, the balloon is then inflated to push the plaque outward against the wall of the artery, widening the artery and restoring the flow of blood through it. 

The illustration shows a cross-section of a coronary artery with plaque buildup. The coronary artery is located on the surface of the heart. Figure A shows the deflated balloon catheter inserted into the narrowed coronary artery. In Figure B, the balloon is inflated, compressing the plaque and restoring the size of the artery. Figure C shows normal blood flow restored in the widened artery.

Text and illustration courtesy to National Institutes of Health, National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (2007)Coronary Angioplasty Illustration