Angioplasty is a non-surgical procedure to widen arteries that have become clogged with arterial plaque (a substance consisting of cholesterol, cellular waste, fibrin, calcium, and fatty deposits). Blood can’t flow as efficiently as it should when the inner walls of an artery are lined with plaque. Over time, plaque can build up to dangerous levels and lead to heart attack, stroke, and peripheral artery disease (PAD).
However, this risk can be alleviated with a minimally invasive angioplasty procedure. During angioplasty, a doctor guides a catheter into the blocked area and uses a balloon, stent, or laser to clear a wider path through the plaque. This helps restore blood circulation and can reduce the risk of serious complications. At USA Vascular Centers, our vascular doctors specialize in performing angioplasty procedures in the legs.
If you have been diagnosed with peripheral artery disease (PAD), your doctor may recommend angioplasty. PAD is a progressive condition caused by plaque buildup that leads to narrowed arteries. When arteries are narrowed or blocked by plaque, blood flow is restricted, which means less oxygen and nutrients get through to your muscles. PAD can be diagnosed in the arms but is more commonly seen in the legs.
You may find it difficult to walk for long periods or exercise due to pain in your legs, which is the most common symptom of PAD. The specialists at USA Vascular Centers provide high-quality vascular care, including diagnosing and treating PAD using angioplasty.
Main Types of Angioplasty for PAD
When considering treatment options, your doctor may discuss an angioplasty. One of several types of angioplasty may be recommended depending on your condition:
- Laser angioplasty: A laser is used to turn the blockage into vapor
- Carotid artery angioplasty: A balloon is used to compress plaque buildup in the carotid artery
- Balloon angioplasty: Opens narrowed arteries in the legs
- Stent placement: A wire mesh stent is placed in the affected artery
The type of procedure depends on the location of the plaque buildup and the severity of the condition.
At USA Vascular Centers, our vascular doctors have two key goals in mind when making their recommendations: reducing PAD symptoms and preventing the disease from progressing and causing more serious health conditions. Balloon angioplasty and stent placement are the preferred types of angioplasty treatment for PAD because they specifically focus on treating the legs.
A vascular doctor performs balloon angioplasty using X-ray imaging and contrast dye to identify the location of the blockage. Then, a catheter with a deflated balloon attached to the end is guided to the blockage site. The balloon is inflated, compressing the plaque buildup. This can help open up space inside the artery, allowing blood to flow more freely throughout the vascular system and helping to alleviate the painful symptoms of PAD. A balloon angioplasty may be followed by a stent angioplasty to decrease the likelihood of the artery clogging again in the same place. Many vascular specialists perform both procedures at once, providing a more convenient and long-term solution for the patient.
This procedure is similar to balloon angioplasty and is often performed during the same appointment. Stent placement utilizes a wire mesh stent to keep narrowed arteries open for blood circulation. As in balloon angioplasty, a vascular specialist locates the blockage using X-ray imaging (called fluoroscopy) and contrast dye. A catheter with a stent is then inserted into the affected artery. Once the stent is in position, the catheter is removed, leaving the stent to hold the artery open permanently. If your vascular specialist is concerned that your arteries may clog again, stent placement may be the best option for you.
How to Prepare for Angioplasty Procedure
As a minimally invasive, non-surgical procedure, angioplasty requires relatively little advance preparation. Before your procedure, make sure your provider knows which medications you’re taking. They may request that you stop taking certain medications for a period of time before your angioplasty procedure.
Your doctor may also require you to fast or eat only a light meal for several hours before your treatment. Since most patients receive light sedation during the procedure, you’ll need to arrange to have someone drive you home after an angioplasty. Make sure to wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing on the day of your appointment.
What to Expect When Getting Angioplasty Procedure
You may feel less anxious if you know what to expect during an angioplasty procedure. Angioplasty is non-surgical and requires no stitches or general anesthesia. Your vascular specialist will first numb the area where the catheter will be inserted into the body (usually through the groin). They may also prescribe a light sedative to help you feel calm if you are overly nervous.
Contrast dye will be injected into the artery to show the location of the blockage. Your doctor will then guide the catheter into the artery while using X-ray imaging to monitor its position. A balloon or stent will be located at the tip of the catheter.
The balloon will be inflated at the blockage site, compressing the plaque to open up the artery before being deflated and removed. A stent can be placed to ensure the artery remains open. Once the catheter is removed, you will be monitored for a few hours before being released to go home.
Most patients require minimal recovery time for balloon angioplasty or stent angioplasty. Since this is an outpatient treatment, you will be able to go home the same day. However, you will likely feel drowsy and need someone to drive you home.
It’s recommended that you take it easy after treatment until you get your energy back. You can expect light bruising at the insertion site and mild soreness that usually fades a few days afterward. Most patients are back to their normal activities in about a week.
Many patients notice a reduction in PAD symptoms in the days after an angioplasty in leg procedure. When blood can flow freely to your legs and feet again, your tissues receive the oxygen and nutrients they need to function properly. You may notice reduced leg pain and tingling, faster wound healing, and restored toenail and leg hair growth. It’s important to note that without treatment, these symptoms can get worse as plaque keeps building up, causing the arteries to become narrower.
Schedule a Consultation with USA Vascular Team
The experienced vascular doctors at USA Vascular Centers are committed to providing high-quality, personalized care through your treatment journey, from diagnosis to recovery. Schedule a consultation or give us a call at 888.773.2193.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
No, angioplasty is not a major surgery. It is a non-surgical treatment that can be performed in an outpatient setting. The doctor inserts a catheter into your vascular system and guides it to the blockage. Depending on where your artery is clogged, the provider may choose a spot on your arm, wrist, or groin. Angioplasty does not require stitches. During the appointment, the doctor will go into more detail.
Angioplasty is known to carry a low risk of complications. Because it isn’t a surgery, the risk of infection and blood loss is minimal. In addition, general anesthesia isn’t required for an angioplasty procedure. Thanks to medical imaging technology, angioplasty is a highly effective treatment for clearing plaque from arteries. Patients who receive an angioplasty for PAD symptoms can go home the same day.
Most angioplasty procedures take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. If a patient has only one or two blockages, the duration is more likely to be at the low end of this range. However, if there are multiple blockages to address, the procedure can take longer.
Patients should avoid drinking alcohol for at least 24 hours after angioplasty. Medical research suggests that drinking alcohol may increase blood pressure, which contributes to a higher risk of plaque building up in the arteries.
You should be able to drink coffee after an angioplasty procedure. Studies suggest that coffee may have a positive effect on the vascular system when consumed in moderation. We recommend staying within the suggested limit of about 400 milligrams, or roughly four cups per day, after an angioplasty.
In most cases, patients can begin returning to their normal activities about a week following an angioplasty procedure. Because patients are lightly sedated during an angioplasty, they should avoid driving for 48 hours after the procedure. It’s important to listen to your body throughout your angioplasty recovery period. Follow all instructions given to you by your doctor and take any medications as directed. Most patients can fully resume their normal activities within one to three weeks.
Keep in mind that the advice above does not apply to emergency angioplasty procedures. If you have had an emergency angioplasty following a heart attack or stroke, follow your doctor’s recommendations carefully and resume your normal activities as directed.