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Coronary angioplasty is also medically referred to as balloon angioplasty or percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty. This is a minimally invasive procedure that is performed to open the blocked arteries of the heart. This allows the blood to flow smoothly to the heart muscle. This procedure is mostly performed after a heart attack to restore the blocked blood flow to the heart. This helps the patient recover and rejuvenate heart health by opening the blocked blood vessels and restoring the supply of blood to the heart muscle.

The blockage in the arteries occurs because of the build-up of lipid-rich plaque in the arteries, which restricts the supply of blood to the heart. The accumulation of plaque is also referred to as atherosclerosis. When the excessive plaque sticks to the walls of the arteries and starts restricting blood flow, the condition is referred to as coronary artery disease.

Causes of Clogged Arteries

As mentioned, the build-up of fibrous and fatty substances – made of fat, cholesterol, and cellular waste – called plaque clogs the arteries. The plaque is formed due to several reasons such as:

· Bad cholesterol

· Consuming trans and saturated fats

· High blood pressure

· High triglyceride

· Diabetes

· Obesity and excessive weight

· Smoking tobacco

· Family history

· Increasing age

· Stress

· Lack of exercise

· Drug abuse

The formation of plaque can begin during childhood or even during the teen years. The process intensifies with age and eventually causes problems by the mid-age. To counteract the accumulation of plaque, the cells of the artery walls multiply and thus, emit harmful substances that further worsen the condition. As the deposits increase, the patient’s arteries narrow and harden, thereby reducing the blood flow.

Preparation for Coronary Angioplasty

Before a coronary angioplasty, the patient is advised to not eat or drink at least after midnight before the due date of the procedure. The patient is advised to take normal and permissible medications with only a limited amount of water. In the case of patients that have diabetes or take blood thinners, the doctor issues special instructions regarding food and medications.

Moreover, it is suitable for the patient to be accompanied by a family member or a friend since he/she is not allowed to drive back on his/her own. However, the return to normal activities and the general lifestyle can begin right after the surgery.

The procedure of a Coronary Angioplasty

Before beginning the procedure, the patient is administered with anesthesia. Once the patient is sedated, the surgeon makes an incision on the arm or the groin of the patient and inserts a thin, flexible tube called a catheter inside the blocked artery. A tiny balloon is placed on top of one side of the catheter and the other, a high-quality camera is set up to provide guidance to reach the exact place of the blockage. The doctor uses special dyes to get clear images of the inside of the body. These are displayed on an X-ray monitor for ease.

Once the catheter is at the exact place of blockage, the surgeon inflates the tiny balloon and removes the blockages from the artery. The inflated balloon pushes the accumulated plaque to the sidewalls of the artery. After the blockage is cleared, the blood is restored smoothly.

Post this, the surgeon deflates the balloon and subsequently removes it from the body of the patient. Often, the surgeon places a stent in the affected artery to keep it from closing again. The stent is typically a stainless-steel mesh, which ensures that the arteries do not clog again in the future. In some cases, surgeons use medically coated stents known as drug-eluting stents and prevent recurrence of blockages.

A coronary angioplasty is very useful in cases where a patient has experienced a heart attack. In other cases, this procedure is also very effective in minimizing the chances of heart failure or related complications. However, for the coronary angioplasty to be successful in restoring blood supply, the procedure must be performed in the first hours or immediately after the heart attack.

Recovery after a Coronary Angioplasty

A coronary angioplasty is considered a very safe surgical procedure since it involves a minimally invasive method to restore blood flow. Generally, the procedure involves a shorter recovery time as compared to those of traditional treatment methods. It takes about 3-4 weeks for a normal person to recover after coronary angioplasty. However, in some cases, the recovery time can extend depending on the severity of the patient. That said, the surgeon will advise a few precautions and modifications to be followed for optimum results.

Post Coronary Angioplasty

After the procedure, the doctor will suggest specific lifestyle modifications to ensure good heart health and prevent future blockages in the arteries. Some of these changes will include:

· Indulging in healthy eating including green leafy vegetables, fibre, whole grains, fish, nuts, seeds, low-fat dairy, etc.

· Avoiding saturated fats, trans fat, sodium, cholesterol, sugar, etc.

· Increasing the intake of water and reducing the overall consumption of oil, sugar and sodium.

· Increasing balanced physical exercise

· Regular heart monitoring

· Quitting smoking

· Reducing stress

· Limiting alcohol intake

· Maintaining a healthy weight

· Maintaining appropriate blood sugar, blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels

· Taking all prescribed medicines such as blood thinners, thrombolytics, nitroglycerin, antiplatelets, pain killers, etc.

Overall, it is important for a patient to not rush the recovery process and take it slow as per the advice of the doctor. Moreover, physically stressful activities should be strictly avoided for some time unless permitted by the doctor.

Benefits of a Coronary Angioplasty

Coronary angioplasty is a very common procedure to treat patients after a heart attack. This method is minimally invasive and offers some significant benefits such as:

· Efficient and quick restoration of blood flow to the heart

· Immediately effective. Thus, minimizing any further damage to the heart muscles

· Relieves chronic chest pain

· Prevents acute shortness of breath

· Minimally invasive

· Eradicates the requirement for an open-bypass surgery

· Reduces chances of other heart issues

· Improves kidney functioning

· Shorter recovery period

· Less complicated and safer than an open-heart bypass surgery

· Fewer safety measures

· Easy and fast recovery

· Reduces chances of another heart attack

· Increases chances of survival

Complications and Risks in a Coronary Angioplasty

Generally, coronary angioplasty has very low risks and complications. However, some of the risks in coronary angioplasty include:

· Allergies to the special dye used or anaesthesia, stent, etc.

· Bleeding, clotting or bruising at the point of incision

· Formation of blood clots or scar tissue in the stent

· Irregular heartbeat

· Anxiety

· Damage to the heart vessel or 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

That said, the risks vary per each case and are mostly temporary and can be easily managed with some treatment. For a coronary angioplasty to be successful, the procedure needs to be followed with dedicated and proper care, preventive measures, and follow-up check-ups.

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