What Is Angioplasty? | MedStar Health

Minimally invasive procedure to widen clogged arteries

Coronary artery angioplasty

A number of vascular conditions can cause plaque to build up in the blood vessels, leading to reduced blood flow in areas of the body. We use angioplasty, also known as percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), to improve blood flow, reduce chest pain, and keep the coronary arteries from narrowing further. The procedure also can be used as an emergency treatment for a heart attack, as it can restore blood flow better than clot-busting drugs in some cases.

The experts in our Interventional Cardiology Program work out of multiple labs around the region that are staffed 24/7, meaning you can get treatment close to home. They offer the latest minimally invasive approaches to help prevent heart attacks and improve your quality of life.


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What to expect

You may be asked to not eat or drink before the angioplasty. If you are taking medications, ask your doctor if you should take them the day of the procedure.

An IV will be inserted to give you fluids, blood-thinning medications, and a sedative to help you relax, although you’ll remain awake during the procedure. Small round disks known as electrodes with wires attached will be placed on your chest to connect you to an electrocardiogram, which will monitor your heart.

You’ll receive a local anesthetic injection to numb the area in the wrist (known as transradial catheterization) or groin where a thin, flexible tube called a catheter will be inserted into an artery. The doctor will use X-ray images to guide the catheter through the artery to the blockage. A contrast dye will be injected to allow the narrowed area to be more clearly seen on an X-ray.

We use what is known as a balloon angioplasty, in which a balloon at the end of the catheter will be inflated, causing the plaque to mold against the artery wall. You may experience some pain or discomfort while the balloon is inflated.

During the procedure, your doctor also may place a mesh tube known as a stent to help keep the artery open. The procedure can take up to several hours, depending on the number of blockages you have, and you may need to spend the night in the hospital for observation.

Vascular angioplasty

Angioplasty is also a common procedure used by vascular surgeons to treat the narrowings and blockages of the peripheral arteries. An inflatable balloon is used for opening the arteries and stents are often used to prevent the recurrence of blockages in the future. Angioplasty and stenting can be used to treat vascular disease found in various peripheral arteries located throughout the body including leg arteries claudication and critical limb ischemia, narrowing of the arteries of the arms, intestines, and kidneys, and carotid arterial disease.


Angina/Chest Pain

Angina, sometimes called angina pectoris, is a specific type of chest pain that happens when the heart isn’t getting enough blood flow.

Carotid Artery Disease

Carotid artery disease, also known as carotid artery stenosis, occurs when fatty deposits known as plaque cause the carotid arteries to narrow or become blocked.


Claudication is muscle pain caused by clogged arteries that reduce blood flow to the muscles.

Coarctation of the Aorta

Coarctation of the aorta is a narrowing of the aorta, the body’s largest artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body.

Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease in the United States.

Coronary Calcification

Coronary calcification occurs when calcium builds up in the plaque found in the walls of the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart muscle.

Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction)

A heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction (MI), requires emergency medical attention. A heart attack happens when the flow of blood to the heart is blocked.

Ischemic Cardiomyopathy

Ischemic cardiomyopathy is an enlargement and weakening of the heart’s left ventricle. This decreases the heart’s ability to pump blood throughout the body.

Kawasaki Disease

Kawasaki disease is a rare condition that causes inflammation of the blood vessels and can result in heart disease.

Peripheral Artery disease (PAD)

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) occurs when blood flow to the arms and legs is reduced due to narrowed or blocked arteries.

Renal Artery Disease

Renal artery disease, also known as renal artery stenosis, is a narrowing or blockage of the renal arteries, which bring blood to the kidneys.

Venous Disease

Venous disease refers to a number of conditions that affect the flow of blood through the veins.


Cardiac Catheterization

Cardiac catheterization is a minimally invasive way to diagnose and treat a variety of heart and vascular conditions by guiding thin, flexible tubes called catheters through blood vessels to problem areas.

Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan

The cardiac computed tomography scan, or cardiac CT, uses X-rays to create three-dimensional images of your heart and blood vessels.

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

An electrocardiogram, also known as an ECG, measures the heart’s electrical activity.

Fractional Flow Reserve

Fractional flow reserve, also known as FFR, is a measurement of how well blood can flow through the coronary arteries. Narrowing or blockages in these arteries can lead to a heart attack without treatment.

Stress Tests

Stress tests are used to assess how your heart works during physical activity. There are several types of stress tests, including treadmill or bike stress tests, nuclear stress tests, stress echocardiograms, and chemically induced stress tests.

Our locations

Distance from Change locationEnter your location

MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center

7503 Surratts Rd.
Clinton, MD 20735

MedStar Union Memorial Hospital

201 E. University Pkwy.
Baltimore, MD 21218

MedStar St Mary's Hospital

25500 Point Lookout Rd.
Leonardtown, MD 20650

MedStar Montgomery Medical Center

18101 Prince Philip Dr.
Olney, MD 20832

MedStar Washington Hospital Center

110 Irving St. NW
Washington, DC 20010

MedStar Georgetown University Hospital

3800 Reservoir Rd. NW
Washington, DC, 20007

Additional information

Vascular and Endovascular Program

Partner with a recognized leader in offering care ranging from straightforward vascular disease to the most complex vascular disorders.

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Interventional Cardiology Program

We have one of the highest volume heart catheterization programs in the mid-Atlantic region, averaging nearly 12,000 procedures annually.

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Ask MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute

Have general questions for our heart and vascular program? Email us at AskMHVI@medstar.net. If you have clinically-specific questions, please contact your physician’s office.