Balloon angioplasty is also referred to as percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty or percutaneous coronary intervention. It is a very effective surgical procedure performed right after a heart attack to restore the flow of blood. It involves removing the blockages from the coronary arteries caused due to build-up of plaque. Typically, a balloon angioplasty helps to restore heart health by opening the blocked arteries and restoring the heart with blood, nutrients and oxygen.

The procedure of a Balloon Angioplasty

Before beginning the procedure, the patient is given anaesthesia. After this, the surgeon places a thin, flexible tube called a catheter inside the blocked artery by making an incision on the arm or the groin of the patient. This catheter is mounted with a tiny balloon on one end and a high-quality camera on the other, to help the surgeon direct the catheter to the exact place of the blockage. The catheter displays the images on an X-ray monitor for ease and uses special dyes to provide clear images. 

After the catheter reaches the area specified, the surgeon inflates the tiny balloon and removes the blockages from the artery. This helps to clear the passage for the blood to flow smoothly. The balloon, when inflated, pushes the accumulated plaque to the sidewalls of the artery.

Once the blockage is removed, the supply of blood to the heart is restored. Post which, the surgeon deflates the balloon and subsequently removes it from the body of the patient. In many cases, the doctor might place a stent in the artery to keep it from closing again. This stent is a stainless steel mesh that ensures that the arteries do not clog again in future. Stents that are medically coated are known as drug-eluting stents and prevent recurrence of blockages.

Overall, a balloon angioplasty procedure is a popular technique to treat patient experiencing heart attacks. Moreover, the procedure can help to minimize the chances of heart failure or other complications. But for this, the angioplasty must have been performed within the first hours of the heart attack or in some cases immediately after a heart attack. 

Benefits of a Balloon Angioplasty

Balloon angioplasty is a very commonly used method to treat patients after a heart attack. Some of the important benefits of this procedure include:

  • Efficiently and quickly restores blood flow to the heart
  • Immediately effective. Thus, minimizes any further damage to the heart muscles
  • Relieves chest pain
  • Prevents shortness of breath
  • Minimally invasive
  • Eliminates the need for an open-bypass surgery
  • Reduces signs of other heart ailments
  • Improves kidney functioning
  • Shorter recovery period
  • Less risky than an open-heart bypass surgery
  • Fewer safety measures
  • Easy recovery
  • The procedure involves usage of local anaesthesia – less harmful/risky than general anaesthesia
  • Reduces chances of another heart attack
  • Increases chances of survival

Recovery after a Balloon Angioplasty

Generally, balloon angioplasty is a safe medical surgery with shorter recovery time, as compared to other traditional methods of treatment. Typically, a patient takes almost 3-4 weeks or more (depending on the severity of the condition) to recover after the surgery. But the patient must follow certain precautions and adopt modifications, as directed by the doctor. 

Some precautions and modifications suggested after a general balloon angioplasty include:

  • Adopting a healthy diet comprising of green leafy vegetables, fibre, whole grains, fish, nuts, seeds, low-fat dairy, etc.
  • Avoiding foods that are loaded with saturated fats, trans fat, sodium, cholesterol, sugar, etc.
  • Drinking more water and reduce the overall consumption of oil, sugar and sodium.
  • Taking all precautions as suggested by the doctor in terms of routine, diet, physical activity, etc.
  • Regularly taking all medications as suggested by the doctor. Some medications include blood thinners (to restore blood flow), thrombolytics (to dissolve clots), nitroglycerin (to widen blood vessels), antiplatelet (to prevent new clots), and pain killers (to curb the pain).
  • Working to maintain good heart health by lowering blood pressure levels, reducing high cholesterol, lowering sugar levels, reducing weight, increasing physical activity, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol intake, and reducing stress. 

However, it is very critical for a patient to not rush the recovery process and have patience. All activities must be resumed only after consultation with the doctor. Physically stressful activities, such as weight lifting, etc. have to be avoided for a long duration after the surgery. The overall approach should be to take slow, measured progressive steps towards a full recovery. 

Complications and Risks in a Balloon Angioplasty

Overall, balloon angioplasty is a very safe procedure, with minimum risks and complications. That said, risks which can arise in some cases include:

  • Allergic reaction to the dye, anaesthesia, stent, etc.
  • Bleeding, clotting or bruising at the incision
  • Blood clots or scar tissue in the stent placed
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Anxiety
  • Injury to the heart vessel or heart valve
  • Tear in the artery (artery dissection)
  • Hole in the artery (artery perforation)
  • Damage to kidney
  • Post-surgery infection or complications
  • Medication side-effects
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack

Moreover, in some patients, the doctor might need to redo the procedure because of the formation of scar tissue in the stent, also called restenosis. In this, the blockage in the artery reoccurs due to build-up of plaque. 

However, all risks involved vary per individual circumstances. Most of these are temporary and easily manageable with some treatment. In all, balloon angioplasty can be successful, provided dedicated and proper care, and lifestyle amendments are made, along with precautionary heart health checks. 

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