If lifestyle changes and medicines can't control your symptoms of coronary artery disease, you may need a medical procedure to treat it. Angioplasty and coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) are the common procedures used.
Angioplasty opens blocked or narrowed arteries. A thin tube with a balloon or similar device on the end is threaded through a blood vessel to the narrowed or blocked coronary artery.
Once in place, the balloon is inflated to push the plaque outward against the wall of the artery. This widens the artery and restores blood flow.
This can improve blood flow to the heart, relieve chest pain and possibly prevent a heart attack.
These days, a small mesh tube called a stent is almost always placed in the artery to help keep it open and to keep the blood flowing after the procedure.
There are various kinds of stents including bare-metal and drug-eluting stents and you should talk to your cardiologist about which stent they use and why. Some stents require you to be on an anti-platelet medication – a drug that reduces the chances of clots forming in the stent – for an extended period of time. Again, you should discuss with your cardiologist the risks and benefits of such a medication for you.
During CABG, healthy arteries or veins taken from other areas in your body are used to allow blood to ‘bypass’ the narrowed coronary arteries. This procedure can improve blood flow to the heart, relieve chest pain, and, depending on which arteries have been blocked, possibly prevent a heart attack.
The choice of surgery versus stenting is a complex one and depends on various factors such as how many stents you might need, the risks of the anti-platelet medication for you, your ability to tolerate major heart surgery and whether you have associated conditions like diabetes. You’ll need to speak to your heart doctor about which treatment is right for you.
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Last published 31 October 2011
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