Plaques form as a result of atherosclerosis, an inflammatory process that eventually results in calcium deposits within the walls of blood vessels. If these plaques become severe enough, impairment in blood flow results. A similar process can result in severe weakening of blood vessel walls, leading to dilated blood vessels which may have an increased risk for rupture.
A peripheral angioplasty procedure is commonly performed in patients who have symptoms of peripheral vascular disease (e.g. stroke, lower extremity pain with walking, non-healing wounds) or patients who are at high risk for an adverse event due to severe blockage or severe dilation (aneurysm) of a blood vessel.
Understanding the Peripheral Angioplasty / Stent Procedure
Peripheral angioplasty, if necessary, is performed after a peripheral angiogram procedure demonstrates concerning findings within a blood vessel. A long, thin, flexible tube, called a catheter, is typically inserted into the leg or arm through a tiny incision (less than one-tenth of an inch) at the skin surface. These catheters are used to help position wires within the abnormal blood vessels.
A balloon, stent, or other equipment may then be advanced over the wire and used to treat the abnormal blood vessel. In the event that a stent is used, the walls of a peripheral artery will eventually grow around the stent, much like ivy can grow and eventually cover a chain-link fence.
While this healing process is occurring, certain medications are extremely important to take and your physician will discuss this with you. In most instances, aspirin is required life-long, and an additional anti-platelet medication (e.g. clopidogrel) may be needed for a period of time, depending on the type of stent and reason for its placement. Your doctor will discuss with you the specifics regarding necessary medications.
If you recently have had a peripheral angioplasty or stent procedure, and are taking medications prescribed by your physician, do not stop these medications for any reason without consulting your doctor.