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When Do You Need Angioplasty?


Since October 2006, about 5,000 residents throughout west Georgia and east Alabama have benefited from a simple-sounding, minimally invasive, non-surgical procedure that became available at Tanner Medical Center/Carrollton and, in 2015, at Tanner Medical Center/Villa Rica: angioplasty and stenting.

It’s simple-sounding because it’s so easy to explain: your heart, like the rest of your body, needs oxygen-rich blood to survive. Sometimes, the arteries that carry that blood to your heart become blocked, or occluded, usually by plaque. When that happens, the heart becomes starved for oxygen and heart tissue begins to die — in other words, you have a heart attack. It’s then that angioplasty really shines: an interventional cardiologist can thread a tiny tube, called a catheter, through your blood vessels into the coronary arteries that carry blood to your heart. We can use a radioactive dye and X-rays to pinpoint where the blockage is — a process called angiography — and then we can use a small balloon at the end of the catheter to press against the walls of the artery and clear the blockage. Often, a small tube made of wire mesh is then implanted at the site of the blockage to reduce the likelihood of future blockages.

Angioplasty may also be used after you’ve had a heart attack, to reduce the likelihood of future events, or to prevent a heart attack if a blockage is found during normal cardiac screening.

The procedure has numerous benefits:

  • It’s non-surgical and minimally invasive. Unlike cardiac bypass — a surgical procedure that removes blood vessels from elsewhere in the body and uses them to go around, or “bypass,” the blockage — angioplasty and stenting is non-surgical. We make a small incision, often in the groin area or wrist, to access a large artery so we can insert the catheter.
  • It can be performed quickly. If your heart isn’t getting oxygen, it’s dying. The longer it goes without oxygen, the more tissue dies, and the weaker your heart is as a result. At Tanner particularly, we’ve worked to develop exceptional “door-to-balloon” times to expedite the delivery of angioplasty for patients experiencing a heart attack. This allows us to act fast and save more heart tissue, so we can realize better outcomes for patients. Also, clearing the blockage and restoring the flow of blood to the heart tends to resolve the symptoms of a heart attack almost immediately — and if you’re having a heart attack, you want to stop the symptoms as soon as you can.
  • It can reduce the risk of future cardiac problems. People who have had one heart attack are at the highest risk of having another. With angioplasty and stenting, we not only clear blockages around the heart but help reduce the likelihood that future blockages may result, reducing the risk for a potentially fatal future heart attack.

If you are at risk for cardiovascular disease, speak to your medical provider about the steps you can take to reduce your risk for a heart attack, and if you experience any of the symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 right away. Also ask if a screening, like an angiography, is right for you and if you should consult with a cardiologist for specialized advice.

Learn more about our nationally recognized interventional cardiac care at TannerHeartCare.org.

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