A balloon on a string may not carry much weight, but the inflatable balloons connected to flexible tubes pictured have helped save millions of lives. Angioplasty balloons and catheters are the streamlined clot-busters that, since 1964, have dented heart disease’s death toll. During coronary artery disease, the fatty deposits that build up in the lining of blood vessels leading to the heart can block the vessel, causing chest pains (angina), and eventually heart attack (myocardial infarction). Eighty thousand people a year in the UK have an angioplasty balloon inserted into an artery in their arm or groin, which is then gently guided to the blockage. Air pumped through the tube at high pressure, inflates the balloon, crushing fatty deposits back against the artery walls, and helping blood reach the heart once more.
Written by Caroline Cross
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