Why do I need a femoral angioplasty?

In general, this procedure is used to improve the blood supply to your legs to help alleviate pain, help in the healing of ulcers, or other skin problems or because of difficulty with walking caused by diminished blood supply. The purpose of the procedure is to improve the blood flow to help relieve any symptoms you are experiencing.


Sometimes the contrast (“dye”) injection can make people feel sick and you will need to fast (no food or drink) for at least 6hrs before the procedure and usually from midnight the night before.

Your doctor will arrange to stop any medications that could interact with the contrast used during the procedure (e.g. glucophage). Medications that increase the risk of bleeding – such as warfarin or Plavix - may also need to be stopped. Sometime, however, you will be started on Plavix before the procedure to ensure that your angioplasty stays open.


The procedure is performed in the Xray department or the operating theatre and you will be brought there on a hospital trolley. Regardless of which leg is affected, either leg may be used for the procedure. Occasionally, an artery in the arm may be used.

The area chosen will be ‘frozen’ using an injection of local anaesthetic. Sometimes a a sedative injection will be given if this is safe, but this is not always necessary.

A needle is inserted into the artery, a wire passed through it and this is used to guide a tube (catheter) into the place that will allow us to take the best pictures of your blood vessels.

During the procedure, x-ray contrast is injected into the catheter and you may get a warm feeling in you legs and feet. You may also get the urge to pass water. This is normal and it is important to stay still during the injection. Feel free to tell the surgeon/radiologist if you are worried or uncomfortable. The procedure takes approximately 30mins.

When the narrowing in the artery has been located, a balloon is passed through the blockage and inflated to restore normal blood flow. You will receive a heparin injection during the procedure to prevent blood clotting.

The procedure takes approximately 45mins. When the catheter is removed, a doctor will press on the groin for up to 20mins to prevent bleeding. You will be brought back to the ward on a trolley and asked to lie in bed for up to 6hrs after the procedure to prevent bleeding. Your regular medication (where it has been withheld) will be restarted when it is safe to do so.

Often you will return to the ward with a constant heparin infusion that will be stopped when deemed safe to do so. You may require regular blood tests while on this medication.

Are there any risks with the procedure?
Bruising and a little soreness are common after the procedure. More serious complications occur in less than 1% and include:

    * Significant bleeding may occur rarely and if this should happen, you may require an emergency operation.
    * Occasionally, the little hole may fail to seal closed (pseudoaneurysm) and further treatment or an operation may be required. Rarely the site may also become infected.
    * If one of the arm arteries is used, the tube will pass one or more of the arteries supplying the brain. There is a very small risk that a blood clot could form and cause a stroke.
    * The contrast used in the procedure can sometimes cause an allergic reaction. This is severe in approximately 1 in 3000.
    * The contrast can also interfere with kidney function, especially in diabetics or if kidney function is already reduced.
    * The procedure can also put additional stress on the heart and rarely patients can suffer a heart attack during or after an angioplasty – this could put your life at risk.
    * The procedure is not always successful in restoring blood flow.
    * The vessel may become blocked again immediately and sometimes blood flow may be worse afterwards.
    * Occasionally circulation may become very reduced and put your leg in danger. Surgery or other treatment may be necessary in this case. It is not always possible to correct the problem and rarely it may not be possible to save your leg.

After six hours (or sooner if your doctor or nurse tells you) you may sit up and start moving around. The groin may be a little sore afterwards but if you have any concerns, notice any swelling, severe pain, or have any new pain or numbness in your leg, please draw this to the attention of your doctor or nurse.

Prepared by Dr. John Keane, AMCNH; January 200

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 31 March 2009 15:18 )