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BMJ Group Medical Reference

Having an angioplasty to make your narrowed artery wider will probably help you to walk further at first. But the benefits may not last.

You'll be awake while you have this operation, but you'll have an injection (a local anaesthetic) so that you don't feel any pain.

The operation to widen narrowed or blocked arteries is called angioplasty. The full name is percutaneous transluminal angioplasty (PTA). Percutaneous means the operation is done through a tiny hole in your skin. Transluminal means you'll have a thin tube passed through your blood vessels.

Here's what happens during the operation.

  • Your doctor will insert a thin tube with a tiny deflated balloon at its tip into your body. The tube is usually inserted near your groin through a fine needle.

  • Your doctor then feeds the tube through your blood vessels until it reaches the part of your artery that is blocked.

  • Your doctor then inflates and deflates the balloon several times. This helps widen your artery and gets blood flowing through it again.

But your artery may become narrower again in the weeks or months after the operation. So doctors often insert a small tube, called a stent, in the place where your artery was blocked or very narrow. This can help to keep it open.

There's been lots of research on angioplasty. Studies have looked at how much further people can walk after angioplasty and how long the effect lasts.

  • One small study found that six months after angioplasty, people could walk 500 metres (about 550 yards) more before their leg hurt, compared with those who hadn't had surgery to widen their arteries. But after two years, people who'd had surgery weren't any better at walking than people who hadn't had surgery. [38]

Other studies have compared angioplasty with exercise.

  • One small study found that people who had angioplasty could walk an extra 130 metres (142 yards) six months after the surgery. People who took part in an exercise programme could walk an extra 50 metres (54 yards). But the benefits of the surgery didn't last. [39] [40]

  • Another study found that angioplasty led to quicker improvement than exercise. [41] People had fewer symptoms during the first few months. However, the benefits faded, and there was no difference between angioplasty and exercise after a year.

Studies have also found that having angioplasty with a stent to keep the artery open might be slightly better than angioplasty without a stent. [42] [43] However, the advantage is small, and fades over time. Studies found a benefit after six months, but a year or two after surgery there was no advantage to having a stent.

All operations have some risk of complications. In angioplasty there is a risk of bleeding during the operation. There's also a very small risk that you might lose a limb during the operation, have a heart attack or a stroke, or die. [44] [45]


local anaesthetic

A local anaesthetic is a painkiller that's used to numb one part of your body. You usually get local anaesthetics as injections.

For more terms related to Peripheral arterial disease


For references related to Peripheral arterial disease click here.
Last Updated: September 26, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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