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Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PCI)

What is percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI)?

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  • Percutaneous coronary intervention is a non-surgical method used to open narrowed arteries that supply heart muscle with blood (coronary arteries).
  • Percutaneous means "through unbroken skin." Percutaneous coronary intervention is performed by inserting a catheter through the skin in the groin or arm into an artery.
  • At the leading tip of this catheter, several different devices such as a balloon, stent, or cutting device (artherectomy device) can be deployed. The catheter and its devices are threaded through the inside of the artery back into an area of coronary artery narrowing or blockage.
  • The "I" in percutaneous coronary intervention is for "Intervention," which means that even if the person is actively having a heart attack (myocardial infarction or MI), percutaneous coronary intervention can be used to intervene and stop the attack by opening up the narrow or blocked coronary artery. This allows blood to flow to the heart muscle.
  • Percutaneous coronary intervention began as percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA), a term still found in the literature, and now encompasses balloons, stents (metal scaffolding expanded inside the artery lumen), and other modifications to the catheter tip, including devices that can cut out plaque and thus open up the narrowed artery.
  • Although treatment of acute heart attack is a very important use of percutaneous coronary intervention, it has several other uses. Percutaneous coronary intervention can be used to relieve or reduce angina, prevent heart attacks, alleviate congestive heart failure, and allows some patients to avoid surgical treatment (coronary artery bypass graft or CABG) that involves extensive surgery and often long rehabilitation time.

What is balloon angioplasty?

Balloon angioplasty employs a deflated balloon-tipped narrow catheter that is inserted through the skin of the groin or arm into an artery. The catheter is threaded through the artery until it arrives in the coronary artery where there is narrowing or blockage. The catheter tip is then inserted through the narrowed area. Once in the narrowed area, the balloon is inflated, mashing the plaque into the vessel walls to reduce the narrowing (see Figure 1).

The balloon is then deflated and the catheter removed. The process is viewed by injecting a dye that allows the cardiologist to view the flowing blood as it goes through the arteries. This viewing method (angiogram) can be used to assure that the artery has increased blood flow after the balloon is deflated and removed.

Picture of Balloon Angioplasty
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/21/2016

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Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PCI):

Percutaneous Coronary Intervention - Recovery

What aided your recovery from a percutaneous coronary intervention surgery?

Percutaneous Coronary Intervention - Stent

Have you had a stent placed? What was your experience like?

Percutaneous Coronary Intervention - Heart Attack

Have you or someone you know undergone PCI to intervene while a heart attack was taking place? Please describe the experience.

Heart disease

Coated Stent Definition

Coated stent: Also known as a medicated stent. A tiny cage coated with a drug to prop open an artery and prevent it from closing again. The stent is a minute metal mesh tube. It is inserted into a coronary artery usually just after an angioplasty has been done to open the vessel. The stent slowly releases the drug with which it is coated. The drug may, for example, be sirolimus. Coated stents reduce the risk of artery re-narrowing, or restenosis, after angioplasty which occurs about a third of the time when bare metal stents are used.


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