February 4, 2021
You may have heard about a friend or family member getting a stent placed in an artery near their heart, or perhaps your cardiologist has talked with you about this possibility. Learn why these small metal tubes may be needed, and how they help treat heart disease.
Understanding Coronary Artery Disease
Before you can understand the purpose of a stent, it’s important to understand coronary artery disease. The coronary arteries carry oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle to nourish it. Over time, a fatty substance known as plaque can build up in the wall of coronary arteries. This is especially true for people with the following conditions that put them at higher risk for plaque build-up which leads to coronary artery disease:
- High Cholesterol
- High Blood Pressure
- Family history of early coronary artery disease
What Happens as Arteries Narrow?
At first, the arteries are able to process the plaque and maintain adequate blood flow to the heart. After a certain point, however, the arteries can narrow or become blocked. Two things could happen:
- Angina: As the arteries become more blocked, you may experience angina, or chest discomfort that occurs with exertion or mental stress and is relieved by rest.
- Heart Attack: The plaque in the wall of the vessel ruptures or erodes. A clot can form and abruptly decrease or completely close the artery. This may lead to a heart attack.
The Benefits of Stenting
For many people, coronary artery disease can be controlled with medication. For others, a non-surgical procedure in which a stent is inserted to open and keep open a blocked coronary artery.
By keeping an artery open, stents lower your risk of chest pain. They can also treat a heart attack in progress and reduce the chance of a future heart attack.
Here’s how the procedure works:
- Using a catheter inserted through the groin, arm or neck, a cardiologist clears plaque from the artery with a balloon or other techniques, such as a laser or other plaque removal devices.
- A stent, usually made from wire mesh, is permanently implanted to hold the artery open.
- Most stents are coated with medication that is slowly released to help prevent scar tissue from growing in the artery lining.
Is Getting a Stent Safe?
There is small chance that the treated artery may develop scar tissue. In that case, the stenting procedure may have to be repeated or the patient could undergo a locally applied radiation treatment.
A very rare complication (less than 1%) of the procedure is developing a blood clot inside the stent which can result in a heart attack.
Staying Healthy After You Get a Stent
After your procedure, you will enjoy more blood flow to your heart and less chest pain. By making a few lifestyle changes, you can help control your coronary artery disease:
- Talk to your doctor about appropriate exercise
- Eat a healthy diet, rich in fruits and vegetables
- Maintain a healthy weight
- If you smoke, quit
- Reduce your stress
- Take medications as prescribed by your doctor