Understanding Peripheral Angioplasty

Understanding Peripheral Angioplasty

Understanding peripheral balloon angioplasty

Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, affects millions of people. Atherosclerosis is the term used to describe a buildup of plaque (hard, fatty deposits) on the inside of your arteries. This build-up reduces the amount of blood that flows through the vessels to your legs and, therefore, also reduces the amount of oxygen to the lower extremities. Your physician may have talked to you about the possibility of balloon angioplasty and stenting to open the narrowed areas in your arteries.

Balloon angioplasty is a minimally invasive technique that can be used to open clogged arteries. To perform angioplasty, your doctor will make a small puncture in the artery in your groin and slip a small plastic tube called a sheath into your artery. Your physician will then place a balloon catheter through the sheath and, while watching with live X-ray images, maneuver the balloon to the area of blockage. The balloon is then inflated to fracture the plaque build-up that is blocking the artery, which creates a wider channel for blood flow through the artery. Sometimes a stent will also be placed in the artery.

A stent is an expandable wire mesh tube that is maneuvered into place on a balloon catheter. The stent expands as the balloon is inflated. After the stent is deployed, the balloon catheter is withdrawn leaving the stent in place. The purpose of the stent is to provide a smooth surface on the inside of the vessel, creating a better channel for blood flow.

How do I prepare for a peripheral angioplasty?

You will receive specific instructions from your physician, but generally you will be asked not to have anything to eat or drink for eight hours before your procedure. You may have some routine tests done before your angioplasty:

  • EKG
  • Blood tests
  • Chest X-ray

Your physician will be able to tell you how long you can expect to be in the hospital; some patients may stay for a day or two, while others may leave within a few hours.

Some suggestions to help you prepare:

  • If you will be staying in the hospital overnight, pack a small bag with a robe, slippers, and toiletries
  • Do not bring valuables or currency to the hospital
  • Bring a list of medications with names and dosages
  • Arrange for someone to drive you home
  • Alert someone if allergic to X-ray dyes or shellfish
  • You may wear your dentures, hearing aids, or glasses

What happens after my procedure?

Most patients will be asked to arrive at the hospital a couple of hours before the scheduled time of their procedure. Before your procedure, you will have an IV started. You will be transported to a procedure room on a rolling bed and your nurse will tell your loved ones where they may wait. You may be given sedation through your IV. Most patients will have local anesthetic administered to numb the area in the groin where the sheath will be inserted. Others may have epidural anesthesia. Your vascular specialist will be able to tell you what kind of anesthesia will be right for you.

What can I do when I return home?

Avoid heavy lifting and do only light activities for a few days.

Call your doctor if:

  • The insertion site bleeds
  • Your leg feels cold or numb
  • You notice worsening of the bruising around the insertion site
  • You have a fever, or signs of infection such as redness, swelling, or drainage at the insertion site

How will I feel after my procedure?

Many people enjoy relief from the discomfort felt in their legs. Some people may still experience some discomfort when they walk, but the distance they are able to walk usually increases after a balloon angioplasty.

What happens after surgery?

After you're discharged, you will have regular visits with your surgeon and cardiologist.

Eating nutritious meals is very important to your healing. Limiting how much salt you eat is often advised after heart valve surgery. If you smoke, you are strongly urged to give up tobacco products. Following a gradual exercise program may also help you have a quicker recovery.

You will discuss with your surgeon when you can resume driving, return to work, and with what limitations. Your doctor will also discuss your
medications. Even over-the-counter medications will need your doctor's approval.

Your successful recovery depends on how well you follow medical advice, exercise, and follow healthy living suggestions.


It is important to be your own best health advocate. A good way to do that is by committing to routine physical exams and diagnostic tests as often as is recommended by your doctor. Early detection of circulatory problems is important for effective treatment.

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