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 - Northwestern Memorial Hospital - Chicago

Percutaneous Coronary Intervention

Percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) may be used to treat stenosis (narrowing) of the coronary arteries. To understand PCI, it is helpful to know more about the heart and coronary artery disease (CAD).


The heart is a muscular organ about the size of a closed fist. It pumps blood to the lungs and to all the body tissues. The heart, like any other muscle, needs oxygen to function properly. Oxygen is delivered to the heart via coronary arteries. The coronary arteries lie on the surface of the heart.


Coronary Artery Disease

Atherosclerosis ("hardening of the arteries") is a slow process in which deposits of fat, cholesterol, and calcium build up inside the artery. These deposits are called plaque. Like the inside of a rusty water pipe, the artery wall becomes rough, hard, and narrower. When the heart vessels are affected by plaque (CAD), blood flow and oxygen to the heart is decreased. Over time, the plaque can rupture and cause a blood clot to form. With the plaque, this clot can further block the blood and oxygen supply to the heart muscle. It is important to recognize that CAD may progress slowly and can be without symptoms.

CAD may cause several problems including:

  • Stable Angina: chest pain or discomfort due to a decrease in blood flow.
  • Acute Coronary Syndrome (ACS): a condition that often occurs when plaque ruptures. This can cause unstable angina or a heart attack (myocardial infarction).
  • Heart Failure (HF): a condition in which the heart muscle may become weak, stiff, or thickened, which limits how well it can pump blood to the body. HF can result from damage to the heart muscle from CAD, or after a heart attack. HF can also be caused by high blood pressure, heart valve disease, infection of the heart muscle, or other heart defects.

Many patients may have angina and as a result have:

  • Chest pressure, tightness or pain
  • Back pain, jaw pain, neck pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Excessive sweating

Risk Factors

Risk factors are habits, traits, or conditions that may increase a person's chance of developing CAD.

Risk factors for cardiac and vascular disease that cannot be changed include:

  • Family history
  • Age
  • Gender (male or post-menopausal female)

Risk factors that can be controlled or modified include:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Excess weight
  • Stress
  • Lack of exercise

Patients with coronary artery disease benefit from a highly skilled team of cardiologists called interventional cardiologists, nurses and technicians. Percutaneous coronary interventions (PCI) or angioplasty procedures open arteries with catheters. Charles J. Davidson, MD, Medical Director of the Center for Coronary Disease and the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory, is a recognized leader in the use of a variety of PCI treatments resulting in long lasting and minimally invasive treatment choices.

At this time coronary artery disease cannot be cured. Certain patients with added diseases like diabetes or high blood pressure can experience more rapid progression or worsening of coronary artery disease. Interventional cardiologists Dr. Charles Davidson, Keith Benzuly, MDJames Flaherty, MD, and Sheridan Meyers, MD,  are collaborative leaders in research that focuses on identifying the best and longest lasting treatments for patients with coronary artery disease.


For more information regarding percutaneous coronary intervention and the treatments available, please call the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at 1-866-662-8467 or request a first time appointment online.

Last UpdateNovember 28, 2012