Angioplasty is a procedure to open narrowed or blocked blood vessels that supply blood to your legs. Fatty deposits can build up inside the arteries and block blood flow.
A stent is a small, metal mesh tube that keeps the artery open.
Angioplasty and stent placement are two ways to open blocked peripheral arteries.
Angioplasty uses a medical "balloon" to widen blocked arteries. The balloon presses against the inside wall of the artery to open the space and improve blood flow. A metal stent is often placed across the artery wall to keep the artery from narrowing again.
To treat a blockage in your leg, angioplasty can be done in the following:
- Aorta -- the main artery that comes from your heart
- Artery in your hip or pelvis
- Artery in your thigh
- Artery behind your knee
- Artery in your lower leg
Before the procedure:
- You will be given medicine to help you relax. You will be awake but sleepy.
- You may also be given blood-thinning medicine to keep a blood clot from forming.
- You will lie down on your back on a padded operating table. Your surgeon will inject some numbing medicine into the area that will be treated, so that you do not feel pain. This is called local anesthesia.
Your surgeon will then place a tiny needle into the blood vessel in your groin. A tiny flexible wire will be inserted through this needle.
- Your surgeon will be able to see your artery with live x-ray pictures. Dye will be injected into your body to show blood flow through your arteries. The dye will make it easier to see the blocked area.
- Your surgeon will carefully guide a thin tube called a catheter through your artery to the blocked area.
- Next your surgeon will pass a guide wire through the catheter to the blockage.
- The surgeon will push another catheter with a very small balloon on the end over the guide wire and into the blocked area.
- The balloon is then filled with air. This opens the blocked vessel and restores blood flow to your heart.
A stent may also be placed in the blocked area. The stent is inserted at the same time as the balloon catheter. It expands when the balloon is blown up. The stent is left in place to help keep the artery open. The balloon and all the wires are then removed.
Why the Procedure is Performed
Symptoms of a blocked peripheral artery are pain, achiness, or heaviness in your leg that starts or gets worse when you walk.
You may not need this procedure if you can still do most of your everyday activities. Your doctor can try medicines and other treatments first.
Reasons for having this surgery are:
- You have symptoms that keep you from doing daily tasks. Your symptoms do not get better with other medical treatment.
- You have skin ulcers or wounds on the leg that do not get better.
- You have an infection or gangrene on the leg.
- You have pain in your leg caused by narrowed arteries even when you are resting.
Before having angioplasty, your doctor will do special tests to see the extent of the blockage in your blood vessels.
Risks of angioplasty and stent placement are:
- Allergic reaction to the drug used in a stent that releases medicine into your body
- Allergic reaction to the x-ray dye
- Bleeding or clotting in the area where the catheter was inserted
- Blood clot in the legs or the lungs
- Damage to a blood vessel
- Damage to a nerve, which could cause pain or numbness in the leg
- Damage to the artery in the groin, which may need urgent surgery
- Heart attack
- Infection in the surgical cut
- Kidney failure (higher risk in people who already have kidney problems)
- Misplacement of the stent
- Stroke (this is rare)
Before the Procedure
During the 2 weeks before surgery:
- Tell your doctor what medicines you are taking, even drugs, supplements, or herbs you bought without a prescription.
- Tell your doctor if you are allergic to seafood, if you have had a bad reaction to contrast material (dye) or iodine in the past, or if you are or could be pregnant.
- Tell your doctor if you are taking sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra), or tadalafil (Cialis).
- Tell your doctor if you have been drinking a lot of alcohol (more than 1 or 2 drinks a day).
- You may need to stop taking drugs that make it harder for your blood to clot 2 weeks before surgery. These include aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), clopidogrel (Plavix), Naprosyn (Aleve, Naproxen), and other medicines like these.
- Ask your doctor which medicines you should still take on the day of your surgery.
- If you smoke, you must stop. Ask your doctor or nurse for help.
- Always let your doctor know about any cold, flu, fever, herpes breakout, or other illness you may have before your surgery.
Do NOT drink anything after midnight the night before your surgery, including water.
On the day of your surgery:
- Take your medicines your doctor told you to take with a small sip of water.
- Your doctor or nurse will tell you when to arrive at the hospital.
After the Procedure
Many people are able to go home from the hospital in 2 days or less. Some people may not even have to stay overnight. You should be able to walk around within 6 - 8 hours after the procedure.
Your doctor and nurse will explain how to take care of yourself.
Angioplasty improves artery blood flow for most people. Results will vary depending on where your blockage was, the size of your blood vessel, and how much blockage there is in other arteries.
You may not need open bypass surgery if you have angioplasty. If the procedure does not help, your surgeon may need to do open bypass surgery, or even amputation.
Percutaneous transluminal angioplasty - peripheral artery; PTA - peripheral artery; Angioplasty - peripheral arteries; iliac artery-angioplasty; fermoral artery-angioplasty; popliteal artery-angioplasty; tibial artery-angioplasty; peroneal artery-angioplasty
Creager MA and Libby P. Peripheral arterial disease. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cariovaslcular Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 61.
Eisenhauer AC, White CJ, Biatt DL. Endovascular treatment of noncoronary obstructive vascular disease. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, LibbyP, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 63.
Update Date 1/23/2013
Updated by: John A. Daller, MD, PhD, Department of Surgery, Crozer-Chester Medical Center, Chester, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.