The modern-day lifestyle, which humans have become so accustomed to, has impacted our health as well, and not in a good manner. Our lives are full of stress, our diets are riddled with junk and there is no time for the troubled hearts to heal from the pain they are under, physical and abstract both. Let us take the example of atherosclerosis, a condition in which plaque build-up impedes the blood flow towards the heart. It sounds like a scary condition, right? One that can lead to a heart attack, if the coronary arteries are affected by it. But the good news is that for such cardiac disorders and diseases, there exists a treatment that can improve the fast deteriorating quality of life of a cardiac patient. We are talking about angioplasty here, a medical procedure that has saved the lives of millions!
In this discussion, we are going to talk about everything that you need to know about angioplasty. So let us start with the basics and define what angioplasty is. Well, in this medical procedure, a balloon catheter, just a tiny one, is inserted in a blocked vessel to widen it. Doing this improves the flow of blood towards the patient’s heart. More often than not, it is the coronary artery that is widened using this method, the procedure, in that case, is dubbed as percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI).
Coronary angioplasty indications
Before we jump into the details of the procedure itself, it is pertinent to mention the indications for an angioplasty. Well, angioplasty is the last hope for anyone who had a severe heart attack and needs a reopening of the blocked artery immediately. However, angioplasty is also recommended for angina patients, who are not getting better with the medication. But don’t let this information give you an impression that angioplasty is for everyone. Doctors determine the need for angioplasty by evaluating the overall cardiac situation of a patient. In some cases, coronary artery bypass surgery is a more effective treatment than an angioplasty.
Before an angioplasty
Unless a patient is undergoing an emergency angioplasty, there are a couple of important preparatory points that must be kept in mind by the patient. Firstly, if the patient takes NSAIDs or blood-thinning medication of any type, there is a good chance that he or she will be asked to stop taking the medicine for a while. A common example of NSAIDs is aspirin. Secondly, routine tests might be needed, such as chest X-rays, ECG, and blood tests. It is also important to abstain from drinking or eating, at least six hours before the surgery. More specific instructions are issued, based on the personal profile of a patient.
What happens during an angioplasty?
This is the most important section of this discussion, please be as much focused as you can. In these lines, we recap the events of an angioplasty[i], without using any perplexing medical jargon.
1- First, an IV is placed through which fluids and medications enter the patient’s system.
2- Next up, local anesthesia is applied. Then a small incision is made, through which a thin guide wire is inserted.
3- A thin tube is threaded through the patient artery. X-rays have a major guiding role to play here.
4- It is time for contrast dye injection. Contrast dye allows your doctor to assess the situation inside a patient’s blood vessels more lucidly.
5- Angiograms (X-ray images) help find the blockage inside the patient’s blood vessels.
6- Next, a small balloon (may or may not feature a stent) is used to widen the narrowed artery by inflating it. Once the balloon has served its purpose, it is deflated (the catheter is removed as well).
7- Process is repeated for multiple blockages if that is the case with the patient on the bed.
Benefits of angioplasty after a heart attack
Angioplasty can save lives after a heart attack. This is not some hypothetical optimistic conjecture, rather, a fact that is backed by reputable cardiac societies and bodies[ii]. Indeed, angioplasties are the quickest way of getting the blood flow back on track after a heart attack. What do cardiologists try to achieve by this? Less damage to cardiac muscles, which means less scarring overall. An angioplasty is beneficial from another point of view as well since it reduces the need for a more invasive CABG. And lastly, having an angioplasty can reduce the risk of another heart attack significantly[iii].
Risks associated with angioplasty
One of the more common concerns associated with this invasive medical procedure is the risk of allergy because of the aesthetic used. Hence, it is always better to have a consultation with your doctor about the anesthesia the team plans to use in your angioplasty. Coming towards the more risky side of things, chances of bleeding and clotting during the procedure are significant enough[iv]. And like any other invasive procedure, there is always a risk of infection. However, this is a risk that can be minimized by ensuring that all SOPs are followed during an angioplasty.
After an angioplasty
A patient who had a heart attack and an angioplasty might be asked to stay in the hospital for at least a week, depending on the overall health. But more often than not, a patient can go home after a couple of nights’ stay in the hospital[v]. However, post-angio, a patient will have to make significant changes in his or her lifestyle. For example, if someone smokes regularly, they will have to say goodbye to the nicotine addiction.
An angioplasty does improve the quality of life of a cardiac patient. However, it is far from a permanent fix. Patients who undergo an angioplasty have to indulge in healthy activities that benefit their lifestyle. For example, it is imperative for cardiac patients who suffered from atherosclerosis have to keep their cholesterol levels in check all the time. Apart from that, maintain a healthy weight and exercising regularly is also important.