Harvard Heart Letter

Understanding angioplasty: When you need it and when you may not

Angioplasty can save lives, but it isn't always urgent. For some people, optimal medical therapy makes sense.

Each year, about 600,000 people in the United States undergo an angioplasty to widen a narrowed coronary artery, nearly always with a tiny wire mesh tube (stent) left inside the artery to keep it open. About two-thirds of these procedures are done in people experiencing a potentially life-threatening event—a heart attack or unstable angina, defined as severe, worsening chest pain during exertion or stress, or chest pain that happens at rest.

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