A balloon dilation catheter is an instrument used to treat atherosclerotic narrowing of arteries. It consists of a long, thin, hollow tube (a catheter) that has near its tip a small, short balloon about the diameter of the artery (shown here). This is guided through the circulation by using X-rays to the narrowed segment of the artery (fig. 1). Once positioned within the narrowing the balloon is inflated. When inflated, the narrowed segment is “pushed” open by the balloon (fig. 2). The balloon catheter is removed after the artery is opened.
Most balloon angioplasties deploy stents as part of the procedure. A stent is a fine mesh or coil like tube of metallic material that is “carried” on the balloon. When the balloon is expanded, the stent also expands and is “pushed” tightly against the blood vessel wall. When the balloon is deflated and withdrawn from the artery, the stent remains behind. Research has shown that stents decrease the risk of recurrent blockage forming. Some stents are “coated” with special medications that can further lower the risk of recurrent blockage. These are called “drug eluting” or “drug coated” stents.
Figure 1: Collapsed balloon catheter used in an angioplasty procedure.
Figure 2: Dilated (inflated) balloon catheter used in an angioplasty procedure.
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