Balloon angioplasty, also known as Percutaneous Transluminal Angioplasty (PTA), is a procedure performed to treat Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD). Below, we answer some of the questions you may have about the procedure.
What is balloon angioplasty?
What instructions will I receive before the procedure?
You will be instructed not to eat or drink anything after midnight the night before the procedure and your doctor may give you other instructions relating to the medications you should or shouldn’t take on the morning of the procedure (especially if you have diabetes or take blood-thinning medicines). You will most likely have blood tests, an electrocardiogram, and a chest x-ray taken before the procedure.
How is a balloon angioplasty performed?
What are the complications of balloon angioplasty?
Balloon angioplasty is considered a relatively safe procedure, and this accounts for the increase in the procedure’s popularity. However, as with all medical procedures, there is a risk that complications may occur during or after the procedure.
In approximately 5-10% of cases a complication will occur (9). Many complications are minor and include minor infections, some minor bleeding after the procedure, or slight discomfort at the procedure site. These usually resolve with minimal treatment.
When they occur, the major complications of lower limb balloon angioplasty can quickly develop into a medical emergency (10). One of the major complications of balloon angioplasty is caused by pieces of plaque breaking off after balloon angioplasty and traveling further down the leg towards the toes. When these pieces are large enough, they can block the arteries of the leg completely restricting blood flow. This process is called “distal embolization”.
What does the distal embolization of debris mean?
Distal embolization is a complication caused by small pieces of plaque – also called debris – entering the blood stream and traveling further down into the leg. These pieces of plaque break off as part of the normal balloon angioplasty procedure. The size of these pieces varies from microscopic pieces that cannot be seen with the naked eye to larger pieces that totally block off arteries of the leg.
The reason distal embolization is considered a major complication (11) is because the artery can be totally blocked, preventing blood carrying oxygen and nutrients from reaching the lower parts of the leg. This can lead to amputation.
What is a stent?
What is the difference between balloon angioplasty and surgery?
Balloon angioplasty is a much less invasive procedure than surgery. Surgery involves major incisions and general anesthesia while balloon angioplasty is performed under local anesthesia via a small puncture into an artery in the groin. Importantly, the recovery time following balloon angioplasty is much less than following surgery and there are fewer serious complications associated with balloon angioplasty (13).
Do I need to take medication after the balloon angioplasty?
Your doctor will advise you regarding the medication you will need to take following the procedure. For most patients, a blood thinning medication is standard treatment and this may be a life-long requirement. Your doctor may also prescribe medications to help control some of your risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol (14).
Will the procedure improve my symptoms?
Balloon angioplasty is very good at improving patient symptoms, at least in the short term. One of the issues confronting patients and physicians is that Peripheral Artery Disease cannot be “cured”, and the symptoms you first experienced may recur even following your balloon angioplasty procedure. However, because balloon angioplasty is a minimally invasive procedure it can be performed repeatedly if required (15).