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Common heart procedures explained: coronary angiogram and coronary angioplasty

What you need to know about these common heart procedures.

Coronary heart disease  affects around 1.4 million Australians. It occurs when fatty deposits build up inside one or more of the coronary arteries (atherosclerosis) and narrows the artery. Untreated, coronary heart disease may lead to angina or a heart attack.

According to Dr Yohan Nathan, Medibank Medical Advisor, every year more than 35,000 Medibank members have a cardiac procedure.

“The most common heart procedure that Medibank members undergo is the coronary angiogram and coronary angioplasty,” he says.

“Even though a these procedures are common, it’s understandable if you feel anxious, and have a lot of questions.”

You should always discuss a procedure with your doctor. But here is some helpful information if you or someone you know is having a coronary angioplasty.

A coronary angiogram is a special x-ray of the heart

The purpose of a coronary angiogram is to see if the coronary arteries are narrowed, to look for abnormalities of the heart muscle and to see if the heart valves are blocked.

The test is done in a special laboratory called a cardiac catheterisation laboratory, which is similar to an operating theatre.

Coronary angioplasty is a procedure to open a narrowing in your artery

If you have coronary heart disease, your cardiologist may recommend that you have a coronary angioplasty as treatment. It is a procedure to open a narrowing in your artery and improve blood flow to your heart.

The cardiologist inserts a small deflated balloon through a main artery in your groin or wrist, and moves it to the heart’s artery, using an X-ray machine to see what they are doing.

The balloon is inflated inside the narrowed part of your artery.

In most cases, the cardiologist may use a stent to keep the artery open. A stent is a tiny expandable tube. The balloon is then deflated and taken out and the stent stays in place.

Coronary angioplasty is not a cure

Coronary angioplasty only opens a particular area of your arteries that have become very narrow due to heart disease. It is not a cure for coronary heart disease.

According to Dr Nathan, there is a chance that following a coronary angioplasty, the arteries in your heart many narrow again.

“If this occurs, this can lead to the return of your original symptoms, which may need further treatment.”

You can lower your risk by taking prescribed medication and living a healthy lifestyle

Dr Nathan says the best way to lower your risk of further heart problems is to take the medications prescribed by your doctors, and to live a healthy lifestyle.

“This means maintaining a healthy diet, exercising, managing your blood pressure and cholesterol, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, and of course giving up smoking if you are a smoker,” says Dr Nathan.

“If you have diabetes, you should try to maintain your blood glucose levels and follow the advice of your doctor or diabetes educator.”

Read these 6 ways to reduce heart disease risk.

Prepare for your coronary angioplasty by talking with your doctor

Dr Nathan says the best way to prepare for your procedure is to talk with your doctor to ask any questions you may have about your procedure, before the surgery and on the day.

“There is some helpful information available from the Heart Foundation on preparing for a coronary angioplasty, but it’s important to talk to your doctor first,” says Dr Nathan.

“You should discuss the procedure at length with your cardiologist, so you understand the risks and benefits, and know what to expect on the day.”

For more information about heart health call the Heart Foundation Heart Health Information service on 1300 36 27 87 or visit the Heart Foundation website.

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