The news that President George W. Bush had angioplasty, or percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), to fix a blockage in an artery may come as a surprise to many. After all, the 67-year-old is a longtime fitness enthusiast who often jogs and rides a mountain bike. During his presidency from 2001 until 2009, he introduced several initiatives to help improve the nation’s health, including the Adult Fitness Challenge and the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award.

But the stent that President Bush received is a common treatment option for those with blocked arteries, says Robert Bonow, M.D., a cardiologist at Northwestern University and former president of the American Heart Association. He says there are many reasons why someone might need  the non-surgical procedure, in which doctors insert a mesh tube into the blocked artery so that blood can more easily flow to the heart muscle.

“The analogy here would be a car engine and fuel line,” he explains. “If you have a narrow fuel line, your car may idle perfectly well. But if you step on the gas, you can’t get enough fuel to accelerate.” 

 The American Heart Association has detailed information about causes and prevention of  coronory heart disease, where plaque builds up in the walls of the arteries. As the plaque builds up, the arteries narrow, making it more difficult for blood flow to increase when you need it to.  The plaque itself also creates a risk for heart attack or stroke.

“It is important to stay tuned with your health care professional and have regular, planned visits, especially if you are being treated for risk factors,” said Bonow.