Angioplasty: How balloons can save your life
If bent the right way, a balloon can be used to make an animal. If pumped with hot air, a balloon can be used to fly. Balloons have many different functions, mostly in the realm of fun. But, balloons have also been used to save lives through a procedure known as angioplasty.
This week on Take Care, Dr. Amar Krishnaswamy discusses angioplasties. Dr. Krishnaswamy is an interventional cardiologist in the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. He is board certified in internal medicine, cardiology, and interventional cardiology.
Click 'Read More' to hear our interview with Dr. Krishnaswamy.
Angioplasty is the “use of balloons in the coronary arteries, which are the arteries that supply blood flow to the heart, and we use those balloons to open up narrowing,” says Dr. Krishnaswamy.
While the idea of inflating a balloon in an artery may seem strange to some, Dr. Krishnaswamy says angioplasties can effectively treat things such as shortness of breath and chest discomfort, both symptoms of the heart not getting enough blood. Sometimes, they are even used in emergency situations to treat a heart attack.
The procedure used to only involve expanding the artery with a balloon, then taking the balloon out. Now, stents are used to make sure the artery stays open. Before stents, Dr. Krishnaswamy says 50 to 75 percent of arteries that underwent angioplasty re-narrowed to dangerous levels again. Now, the rate of re-narrowing has been reduced to five to ten percent with the use of metal stents that remain in the artery forever to act as a scaffold for the artery.
Most angioplasties are outpatient procedures that only last between 30 minutes and an hour and a half. While the procedure may seem risky, Dr. Krishnaswamy insists it is not.
“It’s evolved really well over the last decade, with both equipment becoming safer and easier to use, and operators having more experience. So overall when we talk about these procedures, we say the risk of a major complication is far less than one percent,” he says.
One positive aspect about angioplasties is that the effects can often be felt right away.
“If they are patients with symptoms of chest discomfort or shortness of breath that they were having with exertion, they may notice relief from symptoms the next day or the day after when they start exerting themselves again,” Dr. Krishnaswamy says.
While patients have to take certain medications to help stents seal properly and to ensure better heart health after an angioplasty is done, Dr. Krishnaswamy says the biggest changes a person will have to make are in their lifestyle.
“That includes things like diet—reducing fats, reducing meats, increase fresh foods—and exercise. We recommend at the very minimum about 30 minutes of exercise that’ll break a light sweat at least five days out of the week,” he says.
Dr. Krishnaswamy says strict adherence to these changes is important to prevent problems down the line.
“Often times, patients don’t realize how serious a thing it is that they had an artery narrowing and had to have that open. And so they need to understand that to have the motivation to take the medication and make the lifestyle changes that are necessary for the future,” he says.