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Angioplasty of the leg arteries

Published by Bupa's Health Information Team, October 2011.

This factsheet is for people who are having an angioplasty of an artery in their leg, or who would like information about it.

Angioplasty is a procedure used to widen or relieve a blockage in the arteries.

You will meet the radiologist carrying out your procedure to discuss your care. It may differ from what is described here as it will be designed to meet your individual needs.

About angioplasty of the leg arteries

Angioplasty is a procedure used to widen narrowed arteries to allow blood to flow through normally. It can be used to treat a condition called peripheral arterial disease, where the arteries carrying blood to your limbs are narrowed (see our common questions for more information).

An angioplasty is done by a radiologist (a doctor who specialises in using imaging methods to diagnose medical conditions).

Diagnosis of peripheral arterial disease

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and examine you. You will usually have an ultrasound scan of your legs. An ultrasound scan uses sound waves to produce an image of the inside of your legs. You may also have an angiography, where your radiographer (a health professional trained to perform imaging procedures) will inject a dye (called contrast medium) into your blood vessels to make them visible on X-ray images.

What are the alternatives to angioplasty?

Medicines can be used to treat peripheral arterial disease in some people. You will only be offered an angioplasty if medicines don’t work or aren’t suitable for you.

If an angioplasty hasn’t been successful, you may need to have coronary artery bypass graft surgery.

Preparing for angioplasty of the leg arteries

Your radiologist will explain how to prepare for your angioplasty. If you're having an angioplasty, you will be asked to follow fasting instructions. This means not eating or drinking, typically for about six hours beforehand. However, it’s important to follow your radiologist’s advice.

The procedure is usually done through a large artery in your groin, so you may be asked to shave this area. It’s important that you don’t shave this area unless you are asked to do so.

It's possible to have an allergic reaction to contrast medium (the dye used during the procedure). Tell your radiologist if you know you’re allergic to contrast medium. Medicines are available to treat any allergic reaction.

Your radiologist will discuss with you what will happen before, during and after your procedure, and any pain you might have. This is your opportunity to understand what will happen, and you can help yourself by preparing questions to ask about the risks, benefits and any alternatives to the procedure. This will help you to be informed, so you can give your consent for the procedure to go ahead, which you may be asked to do by signing a consent form.

About the procedure

Angioplasty usually takes between 30 and 45 minutes. It's typically done in the X-ray department of a hospital.

You will lie flat on your back on an X-ray table. Your radiologist may put a needle put into a vein in your arm to give you a sedative or painkillers if you need them.

You will have a local anaesthetic injection into the skin over the artery in your groin. This will completely block feeling from the area and you will stay awake during the procedure.

Your radiologist will insert a needle into the large artery in your groin. He or she will put a guide wire through the needle. Your radiologist will then remove the needle and place a thin tube called a catheter over the wire into your artery. He or she will inject contrast medium through the catheter. You may have a warm feeling when the contrast medium is injected. Your radiologist will then pass a catheter with a balloon on the tip through the blocked or narrowed part of your artery. Once it’s in place, he or she will inflate the balloon. It may be inflated more than once to make sure your artery is wide enough.

Sometimes, your radiologist will put a collapsed wire mesh tube (called a stent) over the balloon at the end of the catheter, and insert it into your artery with the catheter. When the balloon is inflated it opens the stent up. When your radiologist removes the catheter the stent stays in place to keep your artery open.

Illustration showing a blood vessel treated with balloon angioplasty and stent

After the procedure, your radiologist will remove the balloon and catheter.

Your radiologist may put a plug over the hole in your artery, or will press on the area where the catheter was inserted to stop it bleeding.

The procedure shouldn't be painful but may feel slightly uncomfortable. If you do feel pain, tell your radiologist or a nurse who may be able to give you some painkillers.

What to expect afterwards

You will need to lie flat on the bed for the first hour and stay in bed for several hours to recover.

Nurses will check your blood pressure and pulse. They will check your skin where the catheter was inserted to make sure there isn't any more bleeding.

You will probably be able to go home the same day as the procedure. Sometimes you may need to stay in hospital overnight.

Recovering from the procedure

Sedation temporarily affects your co-ordination and reasoning skills, so you must not drive, drink alcohol, operate machinery or sign legal documents for 24 hours afterwards. If you're in any doubt about driving, contact your motor insurer so that you're aware of their recommendations, and always follow your doctor’s advice.

Your doctor may give you a medicine to take to help prevent clots forming in your arteries. You can get back to your normal activities as soon as you get home.

What are the risks?

As with every procedure, there are some risks associated with angioplasty of the leg arteries. We have not included the chance of these happening as they are specific to you and differ for every person. Ask your doctor to explain how these risks apply to you.

Side-effects

Side-effects are the unwanted, but mostly temporary effects you may get after having the procedure.

You may have some bruising around your groin where the catheter was inserted.

Complications

Complications are when problems occur during or after the angioplasty.

Specific complications of angioplasty are rare, but possible complications are listed below.

  • Small parts of the lining of your artery may break away and become stuck in your artery, causing a reduced blood supply.
  • There may be severe bleeding from your artery.
  • You may get a wound infection, which can be treated with antibiotics.
  • There may be damage to the arteries.
  • You may get blood leaking out under your skin if the hole in your artery isn’t closed properly.
  • Your artery may not open up as much as hoped.
  • You may have an allergic reaction to contrast medium.

 

For answers to frequently asked questions on this topic, see FAQs.

For sources and links to further information, see Resources.

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  • This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.

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  • Publication date: October 2011

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