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Angioplasty for Peripheral Arterial Disease of the Legs

Treatment Overview

Angioplasty (also called percutaneous transluminal angioplasty, or PTA) is a procedure in which a thin, flexible tube called a catheter is inserted through an artery and guided to the place where the artery is narrowed.

When the tube reaches the narrowed artery, a small balloon at the end of the tube inflates for a short time. The pressure from the inflated balloon presses the fat and calcium (plaque) against the wall of the artery to improve blood flow.

In angioplasty of the aorta (the major abdominal artery) or the iliac arteries (which branch off from the aorta), a small, expandable tube called a stent is usually put in place at the same time. Reclosure (restenosis) of the artery is less likely to occur if a stent is used. Stents are less commonly used in angioplasty of smaller leg arteries like the femoral, popliteal, or tibial arteries, because they are subject to trauma and damage in these locations.

What To Expect After Treatment

After the procedure, you will rest in bed for 6 to 8 hours. You may have to stay overnight in the hospital. After you leave the hospital, you can most likely return to normal activities.

Why It Is Done

This procedure is commonly used to open narrowed arteries that supply blood flow to the heart. It may be used on short sections of narrowed arteries in people who have peripheral arterial disease (PAD).

How Well It Works

Angioplasty can restore blood flow and relieve intermittent claudication.1 Angioplasty can help you walk farther without leg pain than you did before the procedure.2

How well angioplasty works depends on the size of the blood vessel, the length of blood vessel affected, and whether the blood vessel is completely blocked.

In general, angioplasty works best in the following types of arteries:

  • Larger arteries.
  • Arteries with short narrowed areas.
  • Narrowed, not blocked, arteries.

Risks

Complications related to the catheter include:

  • Pain, swelling, and tenderness at the catheter insertion site.
  • Irritation of the vein by the catheter (superficial thrombophlebitis).
  • Bleeding at the catheter site.
  • A bruise where the catheter was inserted. This usually goes away in a few days.

Serious complications are rare. These complications may include:

  • Sudden closure of the artery.
  • Blood clots.
  • A small tear in the inner lining of the artery.
  • An allergic reaction to the contrast material used to view the arteries.
  • Kidney damage. In rare cases, the contrast material can damage the kidneys, possibly causing kidney failure.

Radiation risk

There is always a slight risk of damage to cells or tissues from being exposed to any radiation, including the low levels of X-ray used for this test. But the risk of damage from the X-rays is usually very low compared with the potential benefits of the test.

What To Think About

In some cases, bypass surgery may be the best treatment choice. This treatment choice depends on your risks with the procedure, the size of the arteries, and the number and length of the blockages or narrowing in the arteries.

Your doctor may recommend that you try an exercise program and medicine before he or she recommends that you have angioplasty.

Click here to view a Decision Point.Peripheral Arterial Disease: Should I Have Surgery?

Complete the special treatment information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this treatment.

References

Citations

  1. Hirsch AT, et al. (2006). ACC/AHA 2005 practice guidelines for the management of patients with peripheral arterial disease (lower extremity, renal, mesenteric, and abdominal aortic): A collaborative report from the American Association for Vascular Surgery/Society for Vascular Surgery, Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions, Society for Vascular Medicine and Biology, Society of Interventional Radiology, and the ACC/AHA Task Force on Practice Guidelines (Writing Committee to Develop Guidelines for the Management of Patients With Peripheral Arterial Disease): Endorsed by the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; Society for Vascular Nursing; TransAtlantic Inter-Society Consensus; and Vascular Disease Foundation. Circulation, 113(11): e463–e654.
  2. Cassar K (2011). Peripheral arterial disease, search date May 2010. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.

Other Works Consulted

  • Eisenhauer AC, et al. (2012). Endovascular treatment of noncoronary obstructive vascular disease. In RO Bonow et al., eds., Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine, 9th ed., vol. 2, pp. 1368–1391. Philadelphia: Saunders.
  • Fuad Jan, M, et al. (2011). Minimally invasive treatment of peripheral vascular disease. In V Fuster et al., eds., Hurst's The Heart, 13th ed., vol. 2, pp. 2355–2385. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
David A. Szalay, MD - Vascular Surgery
Last Revised October 26, 2013

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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