Percutaneous Coronary Intervention

This page will give you information about a percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI). If you have any questions, you should ask your GP or other relevant health professional.

What is a PCI?

A PCI is used to treat the symptoms of coronary artery disease, which is narrowing of the coronary arteries (blood vessels that supply the heart muscle with oxygen).

A PCI is a procedure to widen or unblock an artery using a small inflatable balloon.

What are the benefits of a PCI?

Having a PCI to widen or unblock an artery should improve the flow of blood without you having to have open heart surgery. 

The main benefit is to reduce angina. A PCI may also improve your breathing if blocked or narrowed arteries are causing you to be short of breath. Sometimes a PCI can be used to treat an artery during or soon after a heart attack or to reduce the risk of you having another heart attack.

Are there any alternatives to a PCI?

For some people it may be possible to have a coronary bypass operation. Coronary artery disease can be treated using drugs to relieve the symptoms and to help prevent the disease getting worse.

What does the procedure involve?

A PCI usually takes between half an hour and two hours. 

If appropriate, your cardiologist may offer you a sedative or painkiller.

A sheath (short, soft plastic tube used to access your artery) is usually inserted in your femoral artery near your groin or radial artery near your wrist.

Your cardiologist will pass a catheter along the artery to your heart.

They will pass a small tube with a small inflatable balloon at the end down the catheter and across the narrowed part of the artery. They will then inflate the balloon to widen the artery. In most cases, they will also expand a stent inside the artery to hold it open (see figure 1).


Coronary Intervention







What complications can happen?

1 Complications during or soon after the procedure

  • Bleeding after the procedure
  • Bruising
  • Haematoma
  • Infection
  • Infection of the stent
  • False aneurysm or arteriovenous fistula
  • Kidney damage
  • Allergic reaction
  • Radiation exposure
  • Blood clot
  • Lost stent
  • Change in heart rhythm
  • Blood leaking into the sac that surrounds the heart
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Radial artery spasm

2 Late complications

  • Stent restenosis
  • Stent thrombosis

How soon will I recover?

You should be able to go home the same day or the day after.

It is important that you do not do any strenuous activity for about a week.

If you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, you will usually need to continue with most of the drugs you were on before the procedure.


Coronary artery disease can cause pain, shortness of breath and heart attacks. A PCI is usually a safe and effective way to relieve your pain, and may help you to live longer.


Author: Dr Julia Baron MD FRCP BMBS

Illustrations: LifeART image copyright 2011 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc.-Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. All rights reserved. 

This document is intended for information purposes only and should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.



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