Former President George W. Bush is expected to return to a normal schedule in a few days after a successful heart procedure to fix a blockage in an artery.

In a procedure called angioplasty, doctors inserted a stent into the heart of the nation’s 43rd president on Tuesday morning at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, one day after the blockage was found during a routine annual physical exam at the Dallas-based Cooper Clinic.

A spokesman for Bush says the blockage was opened with no complications and described the former president as being in “high spirits.” Bush, 67, is expected to be back on his feet soon.

Mariell Jessup, M.D., president of the American Heart Association and a University of Pennsylvania cardiologist who was not involved in the former president’s care, says a coronary artery stent is a special mesh tube that is threaded through a catheter and into one of the arteries supplying the heart muscle. Once in position, the stent is inflated with a balloon to open the artery.

Angioplasty, one of several Percutaneous Coronary Interventions (PCIs), is non-surgical and generally takes about an hour, adds Jessup. About 492,000 PCI procedures were performed in the United States in 2010, 67 percent on men. Of the total, about 51 percent were performed on people age 65 and older.

The stent works by widening a narrowed segment of the artery so blood can flow freely to the heart muscle. Any blockage of blood to the heart muscle can cause chest pain or shortness of breath, Jessup said. If a blood clot forms and completely blocks the blood flow to part of the heart muscle, the result is a heart attack.

Stents are one way to treat coronary heart disease, also called coronary artery disease, where plaque or atherosclerosis, builds up in the walls of the arteries. As the plaque builds up, blood flow can be restricted, and patients may develop symptoms. Areas of plaque, even if not severe enough to cause symptoms, can create a risk for heart attack or stroke.

 While the exact results of the president’s annual health check are unknown, there are several tests that can detect blood blockage to the heart muscle, including various forms of stress tests. An arteriogram, during which a special dye is put into the artery is often used to determine where a blockage is located, said Jessup.

Jessup said the former president’s story serves as a good reminder about the importance of working with your physician to check for cardiovascular diseases, including heart disease and stroke, the nation’s No. 1 and No. 4 killers.

“It’s important to assess your risk for having coronary heart disease,” said Jessup. “The best way to evaluate your risk and then to act to reduce it, is to work with your healthcare provider.  And if issues arise, they can help you deal with them in a timely manner.”

For more information from the American Heart Association:

Photo courtesy George W. Bush Presidential Library.