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Angioplasty is a procedure performed to unblock arteries that carry blood to the heart in which a catheter with a deflated balloon on it is passed through the narrowed artery segment. The balloon is then inflated and the narrowed segment widened. Then the balloon is deflated and the catheter is removed. This may be done with the addition of a stent, which will stay in place in the artery once the balloon is deflated and the catheter is removed.

Angioplasty can be an elective or a primary (emergency) procedure. Elective angioplasty means that the procedure is not performed on an emergency basis. Rather, the patient’s cardiologist performed extensive cardiac testing that requires further diagnosis to determine if an artery is blocked and may need to be opened to prevent a heart attack or other cardiovascular complications.

An emergency angioplasty is performed when a patient has a heart attack. Heart attacks, also known as myocardial infarctions, occur when a coronary artery suddenly becomes partially or completely blocked by a blood clot, restricting the flow of blood to the heart. This causes cells in the heart muscle to die. To avoid further damage to the heart during a heart attack, the blocked artery needs to be opened immediately through an emergency angioplasty.

Knowing the signs and symptoms of a heart attack is critically important and could help save your life or someone else’s life. In the event of a heart attack, every minute matters. If you have any of the following signs, call 911 immediately and get to a hospital right away:

  • Chest pain or discomfort.
  • Upper body pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw, or upper stomach.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Nausea, lightheadedness, or cold sweats.
  • The most common symptom is chest pain or discomfort. Women are somewhat more likely to experience the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
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