During balloon angioplasty a long, thin tube called a catheter is inserted through an artery in your groin or forearm, and a thin wire known as a guidewire is used to guide the catheter into the various arteries of the heart. The catheter has a small balloon at its tip that is inflated to push the fatty plaque blocking the artery back against the artery wall. Balloon angioplasty is nearly always combined with stent placement, when a tiny wire-mesh tube is inserted into the artery to prop it open.
Balloon angioplasty is also known as percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty or PTCA. These days, the term most doctors use is percutaneous coronary intervention or PCI. This refers to a variety of devices used to treat clogged arteries, including balloon angioplasty, stents, and atherectomy devices that cut away at hardened plaque. In 2004, almost 1.3 million PCI procedures were performed in the US, 34% of which were in women.1
Are women undertreated?
Before doctors decide whether you need to undergo treatment such as balloon angioplasty or bypass surgery, they take an X-ray of the arteries of the heart to see whether there is a blockage present. This X-ray is called a coronary angiogram or, more generally, cardiac catheterization. As in angioplasty, a catheter is guided into the arteries of the heart, then a special dye, known as a contrast medium, is injected into the arteries that supply blood to the heart so that the X-rays can be taken. The angiogram can pinpoint the location and extent of any blockages.
A 1987 study of more than 80,000 heart disease patients showed that women were less likely to undergo cardiac catheterization than men.2 More recent research finds that women are as likely to receive this test if their age and risk factors are taken into account.3, 4 Even so, a study using videotapes of actors describing identical chest pain symptoms found that the race and sex of the actor influenced the doctor's decision to refer them for cardiac catheterization. Black women were less likely than white men to be referred for cardiac catheterization.5
Once women undergo cardiac catheterization, they are just as likely as men to be treated with angioplasty or stents.6-8