This minimally invasive treatment for blocked arteries uses a ballon-tipped catheter, with a stent placed to keep the artery open during the procedure.

Percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) is a treatment procedure for blocked coronary arteries. Doctors can do It in emergencies, but they commonly schedule it in advance.

They do the procedure by inserting a thin tube called a catheter with a balloon tip into an artery so that a tube called a stent can be placed. The stent then holds open the artery and allows for better blood flow.

This article will explain more about this procedure, why it’s necessary, possible side effects to be aware of, and other points you may consider discussing with your healthcare team.

Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PCI) is a minimally invasive procedure done with a thin and flexible piece of tubing called a catheter and a small mesh tube called a stent.

It opens blood vessels in the heart that have become narrow due to plaque buildup. This improves blood flow.

Typically, people who have PCI to treat plaque buildup, also called atherosclerosis, experience benefits such as reduced pain and more energy for daily activities.

Doctors generally do a PCI with sedation, but not under full anesthesia. They perform the procedure on a cushioned table. Before getting started, you receive sedation and a local anesthetic to manage pain intravenously (IV).

Healthcare professionals can then insert a thin tube called a catheter into a blood vessel. Typically, they insert the tube through an artery in the arm or groin. They thread the catheter through the blood vessel and into the heart.

An X-ray called a fluoroscopy can help guide the catheter. Doctors release a contrast dye when the catheter reaches the heart, allowing them to see the narrowed artery.

Once they identify the narrowed artery, they push the tip of the catheter into place and activate it. The tip of the catheter has a balloon on it, and is covered by the stent.

As it inflates, it pushes the plaque and expands the stent. Healthcare professionals then deflate the balloon and pull it out carefully, while the stent stays in place and holds the artery open.

A PCI treatment is less invasive than some other treatments and links to fewer risks.

Overall, it’s a safe treatment. But all medical treatments have some risks.

Risks associated with PCI include:

  • bleeding at the insertion site
  • infection at the insertion site
  • re-narrowing of the artery
  • blood clots
  • damage to the kidneys because of contrast

Why isn’t this called an angioplasty stent anymore?

A PCI and an angioplasty stent are two different names used to refer to the same procedure.

The word “angioplasty” means using a catheter to insert a balloon into a narrowed artery and expanding it to push the plaque outward, and “stent” means a mesh tube that holds a blood vessel open.

Similarly, the word “percutaneous” means any medical procedure done via a puncture in the skin. The word “coronary” describes all the arteries that surround the heart. You might see and hear this procedure referred to by both names.

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A heart stent is the name used to describe the mesh tube that holds open an artery. A PCI is the procedure done to place a heart stent.

Sometimes, you might hear people using phrasing such as, “getting a heart stent,” or “heart stenting,” to refer to this procedure.

Both PCIs and coronary artery bypass graft surgery (CABG) can help treat blocked arteries.

However, there are major differences between the two procedures. CABG lowers the risk of heart attack. Like PCI, doctors sometimes do it during medical emergencies.

With bypass surgery, doctors go around the area of blockage to supply blood past it.

Any insertion of a catheter tube and injection of contrast dye into your coronary arteries is a cardiac catheterization. This means that all PCI procedures use cardiac catheterization.

However, not all cardiac catheterizations are PCIs.

Healthcare professionals can also use cardiac catheterizations for diagnostic testing, such as heart biopsies and coronary angiographies.

Percutaneous coronary intervention is a treatment procedure for atherosclerosis. During the procedure, doctors insert a thin catheter with a balloon tip into an artery, and then place a stent.

PCIs are minimally invasive and typically safe. However, some risks, such as infection, bleeding, and blood clots, are possible.