Also called Percutaneous Transluminal Coronary Angioplasty (PTCA), balloon angioplasty is most commonly performed on the coronary arteries. In emergency situations, balloon angioplasty is also sometimes used as treatment for a heart attack.

Along with medication and bypass surgery, balloon angioplasty is a standard treatment for coronary artery disease, or CAD. In CAD, hardened arteries (atherosclerosis) that are clogged with plaque deposits restrict blood flow to the heart. Balloon angioplasty attempts to push fatty plaque back against the artery wall, providing more room for blood flow through the artery. Improved blood flow reduces risks for heart attack and sudden cardiac death.

During balloon angioplasty, the physician numbs a specific area of the patient’s body using local anesthetic. The physician then inserts a long, thin tube, or catheter, with a deflated balloon at the tip into the artery- usually through the femoral artery in the upper thigh or groin area. The balloon-tipped catheter is guided to the heart and the site of the blockage. Then the physician rapidly inflates the balloon, which pushes the plaque in the artery back against the wall of the artery. The catheter is then removed, but a stent, or wire mesh tube, is often permanently implanted to hold the artery open. After the balloon angioplasty, the patient is given time to recover, and most are free to go home after about 24 hours.