Medtronic announced on Friday the U.S. and international launches of a balloon catheter for arteries below the knees.

The little balloons clear clogged or narrow arteries when they're inflated inside them at the point of blockage.

Doctors in Europe and the United States have started to use the devices, which now have regulatory approvals in Europe and by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Medtronic said.

A doctor in Lexington, Ky., named Nexar Falluji praised the "pushability and crossability characteristics" of the balloons, and called them "excellent tools."

The catheters are aimed at people with peripheral artery disease. They treat the problem of poor circulation in the calf, ankle, foot and toes, which can lead to sores and amputations.

The innovation of angioplasty, a procedure first performed in 1977, has had an impact on Minnesota. In 1978, doctors at the Mayo Clinic were among the early U.S. physicians to use a balloon on a guide wire to open up a vein or artery.

Stents went on sale in the U.S. in the early 1990s. Boston Scientific started selling drug-coated stents in 2003.

Adam Belz • 612-673-4405 Twitter: @adambelz