A stent is a tiny tube that your doctor can insert into a blocked passageway to keep it open. The stent restores the flow of blood or other fluids, depending on where it’s placed.
Stents are made of either metal or plastic. Stent grafts are larger stents used for larger arteries. They may also be made of a specialized fabric. Stents coated with medication can help keep a blocked artery from closing.
Stents are usually necessary when plaque blocks a blood vessel. Plaque is made of cholesterol and other substances that attach to the walls of a vessel.
You may need a stent during an emergency procedure. An emergency procedure is more common if an artery of the heart called a coronary artery is blocked. Your doctor will first place a catheter into the blocked coronary artery. This will allow them to do a balloon angioplasty to open the blockage. They’ll then place a stent in the artery to keep the vessel open.
Stents can also be useful when there’s an aneurysm in your brain.
Besides blood vessels, stents can open any of the following passageways:
- bile ducts, which are tubes that carry bile to and from digestive organs
- bronchi, which are small airways in the lungs
- ureters, which are tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder
These tubes can become blocked or damaged just like blood vessels can.
Preparing for a stent depends on the type of stent being used. Placing a stent in a blood vessel usually requires taking the following steps to prepare:
- Tell your doctor about any drugs, herbs, or supplements you take.
- Don’t take any drugs that make it harder for your blood to clot, such as aspirin, clopidogrel, ibuprofen, and Naprosyn.
- Follow your doctor’s instructions about any other drugs you should stop taking.
- Quit smoking if you smoke.
- Inform your doctor of any illnesses, including a common cold or flu.
- Don’t drink water or any other fluids the night before your surgery.
- Take any medications your doctor prescribes.
- Arrive at the hospital with plenty of time to prepare for surgery.
- Follow any other instructions your doctor gives you.
You’ll receive numbing medicine at the site of the incision. You’ll also get medicine through an IV to help you relax during the procedure.
There are several ways to insert a stent.
Your doctor usually inserts a stent using a minimally invasive procedure. Your doctor will make a small incision and use a catheter to guide specialized tools through your blood vessels to reach the area that needs a stent. This incision is usually in the groin or arm. One of those tools may have a camera on the end to help your doctor guide the stent.
During the procedure, your doctor may also use an imaging technique called an angiogram to help guide the stent through the vessel.
Using the necessary tools, your doctor will locate the broken or blocked vessel and install the stent. They’ll then remove the instruments from your body and close the incision.
Any surgical procedure carries risks. Inserting a stent may require accessing arteries of the heart or brain. This leads to an increased risk of adverse effects.
The risks associated with stenting include:
- an allergic reaction to medications or dyes used in the procedure
- breathing problems due to anesthesia or using a stent in the bronchi
- a blockage of the artery
- blood clots
- a heart attack
- an infection of the vessel
- kidney stones due to using a stent in the ureters
- a re-narrowing of the artery
Rare side effects include strokes and seizures.
More often than not, the risks of not getting a stent outweigh the risks associated with getting one. Limited blood flow or blocked vessels can create serious and deadly consequences.
You may feel a bit of soreness at the incision site. Mild painkillers can treat this. Your doctor will probably prescribe anticoagulant medication to prevent clotting.
Your doctor will typically want you to remain in the hospital overnight. This helps ensure there are no complications. You might need to stay even longer if you needed the stent because of a coronary event, such as heart attack or stroke.
When you return home, drink plenty of fluids and restrict physical activity for some time. You should follow all of your doctor’s instructions.