How Arteries Become Blocked

Your arteries are usually unobstructed and smooth on the inside but, over time, they can become blocked through a process called atherosclerosis, which means hardening of the arteries. As you age, a sticky substance called plaque can build up in the walls of your arteries that harden and narrow it. This limits the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your organs and other parts of your body. Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium and other substances found in the blood.

Atherosclerosis can lead to serious problems including heart attack, stroke, or even death. It can affect any artery in the body, including arteries in the heart, brain, arms, legs, pelvis, and kidneys. As a result, different diseases may develop based on which arteries are affected.

How Atherosclerosis Is Treated

Apart from lifestyle changes, your physician may recommend an open surgery, angioplasty or stenting. Angioplasty and stenting are considered minimal invasive treatments compared to open surgery (with surgical incision). Minimally invasive treatment has been appealing with patients as recovery time for stent grafting is usually shorter than open surgery, may reduce hospital stay and shows lower operative mortality. Moreover, encouraging clinical-based results have increased physician's usage and confidence.

In an angioplasty, a long, thin, flexible tube called catheter is inserted into a small puncture over an artery. The catheter is guided through your arteries to the blocked area. Once in place, a special balloon, which is attached to the catheter, is inflated and deflated several times. The balloon pushes the plaque in your artery against your artery walls, widening the vessel. In some circumstances, a tiny mesh-metal tube, called a stent, may be placed into the narrowed area of your artery to keep it open. The stent remains permanently in your artery. After this procedure, blood flows more freely through you artery.

In the following video, Polygon Medical Animation illustrates the scientific and medical process involved in atherosclerosis with the use of stent and balloon.