Balloon angioplasty is a minimally invasive procedure to treat blocked or narrowed arteries. It involves inserting a tiny balloon into a blood vessel and inflating it to treat blockages and improve blood flow.

Angioplasty is one of the main treatments for coronary artery disease (CAD). People may receive the procedure to treat chest pain due to narrow or blocked coronary arteries. The coronary arteries are the main blood vessels providing blood to the heart.

Doctors use the term “angioplasty” to describe the insertion and inflation of a tiny balloon into the artery. However, doctors often insert a stent post-procedure in modern angioplasties. A stent is a small tube made from wire mesh that keeps the artery open, improving blood flow.

Read on to learn more about balloon angioplasty, including what it involves, when doctors recommend it, and more.

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A balloon angioplasty can last anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours. The procedure does not cause much pain and takes place in a catheter lab instead of an operating theater.

Doctors may provide medication to relax an individual ahead of surgery.

Doctors carry out a balloon angioplasty as follows:

  1. The doctor threads a catheter through the affected artery with the balloon already attached. This might be through the femoral artery in the thigh or the radial artery in the forearm.
  2. Once the catheter is in place, the doctor observes the process using a specialized X-ray machine. They pass a wire through the catheter, then pass a smaller catheter over the top of this wire with the balloon attached.
  3. The doctor inflates the balloon. It squashes plaque to the side of the artery wall and stretches the wall open, improving blood flow.
  4. In almost all cases, the doctor places a stent in the artery. The stent expands at the same time as the balloon, staying in place to keep the artery wall open.
  5. The doctor removes the two catheters and the balloon once the artery is open.

Doctors typically carry out balloon angioplasties to open blocked arteries due to atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis is the buildup of fat, cholesterol, and other substances in the arteries. Over time, too much of a waxy, fatty substance called cholesterol in the blood can form a hard plaque along the walls of these arteries, reducing blood flow to the heart.

Depending on the location of the plaque, this can lead to CAD or peripheral artery disease (PAD), as well as complications such as heart attack, heart failure, and acute limb events that may require amputation.

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Coronary artery disease

CAD refers to a consistently reduced blood flow. This can make the heart muscles weak and lead to heart failure, in which the heart does not pump blood as it should.

Doctors may not recommend balloon angioplasty for some people with CAD. The coronary artery may be too small or blocked completely, so the balloon cannot move past the blockage. However, in some cases, the doctor can gradually widen the artery. If balloon angioplasty is not suitable, bypass surgery may be an option.

A person’s doctor can advise on whether they recommend angioplasty or other treatments for CAD.

Learn more about treatments for CAD.


The most common CAD symptom is tightness and pain in the chest, also known as angina.

In some cases, doctors may treat chronic angina with medication, but angina due to major blockages or angina that is worsening or changing typically requires revascularization (procedure to clear clogged arteries) with angioplasty or surgery.

Other uses of balloon angioplasty

Doctors may use balloon angioplasty in other arteries in the body, such as in the legs in PAD and in the carotid arteries, where blockages increase the risk of stroke.

Doctors may also recommend balloon angioplasties for some people with blocked brain and neck arteries to reduce their risk of a stroke.

Balloon angioplasty can reduce severe angina, as well as help people resume physical activity limited due to angina.

The procedure can relieve symptoms of PAD and improve blood flow to the legs.

In a heart attack, balloon angioplasty is a lifesaving procedure that restores blood flow to the heart, preventing further heart damage and improving survival.

Balloon angioplasty is a safe procedure. There may be soreness or bruising, but the procedure is relatively painless and often effective.

In rare cases, a balloon angioplasty causes severe bleeding, blood clots, or another artery blockage.

A person’s doctor can advise them when to last eat or drink before the procedure.

It is important for a person to discuss their medications with their doctor. They may need to stop taking some blood thinners such as warfarin. The timing of any doses of diabetes medication may also need adjusting.

A person’s doctor can provide more information about any adjustments they may need to make to their medication beforehand.

Many people can go home on the same day as the procedure. However, some people may need to stay overnight, depending on the complexity of the procedure.

Some people may have driving and exercise restrictions after the procedure. An individual can speak with their doctor about when it is safe to drive and resume physical activity.

However, most people can resume their regular daily activities after seven days.

If a person has a stent, a doctor will prescribe blood-thinning medications to reduce their risk of blood clots and help keep the stent open. It is important to continue taking medication until a doctor advises otherwise.

Here are some common about balloon angioplasty.

What is the difference between a stent and a balloon angioplasty?

A balloon angioplasty involves stretching open a narrowed artery by inflating a tiny balloon inside it. A stent involves placing a wire mesh inside the artery to hold it open. Doctors often place a stent in the artery following balloon angioplasty.

How successful is balloon angioplasty?

The success of balloon angioplasty differs based on which artery doctors perform it in and whether they insert a stent afterward. A person’s doctor can inform them about how successful they expect the procedure to be.

What is the survival rate for balloon angioplasty?

The survival rate for coronary balloon angioplasty is 98.8%, according to a 2023 paper. However, the risk of complications is higher in adults over 65 years of age, people with kidney disease, people with diabetes, women, and people with severe heart disease.

An individual can discuss the risk of complications with their doctor before the procedure.

A balloon angioplasty is an effective, safe, relatively pain-free procedure to reduce blockages in the artery due to atherosclerosis. A doctor inserts a balloon through a series of catheters and inflates it to stretch open the blood vessel. Sometimes, they insert a wire mesh stent to open the artery.

Balloon angioplasty can treat atherosclerosis in various parts of the body. In the coronary arteries, it can treat heart attacks and angina due to CAD. In the legs, it can treat PAD.