What is a cardiac stent?
Your coronary arteries deliver oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle. Over time, plaque can build up in your coronary arteries and limit blood flow through them. This is known as coronary heart disease (CHD). It can damage your heart muscle and put you at risk of having a heart attack.
A cardiac stent is used to treat narrowed or blocked coronary arteries. It can also be used to improve blood flow immediately following a heart attack. Cardiac stents are expandable coils made of metal mesh.
Your doctor can insert one during a coronary angioplasty, a nonsurgical and minimally invasive procedure. The device is designed to support your artery walls, keep your artery open, and improve blood flow to your heart.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, angioplasty with stenting is usually recommended for patients who have only one or two blocked arteries. If you have more than two blocked arteries, bypass surgery may be a better option for you.
How is a cardiac stent inserted?
Your doctor can insert a cardiac stent under local anesthesia. First, they will make a small incision in your groin, arm, or neck. Then, they will insert a catheter with a stent and balloon on the tip.
They will use special dyes and monitors to guide the catheter through your blood vessels to the narrowed or blocked coronary artery. When they reach the narrowed or blocked area, they will inflate the balloon. This will expand the stent and stretch your artery, allowing for increased blood flow. Finally, your doctor will deflate the balloon, remove the catheter, and leave the stent behind.
During this procedure, a filter will prevent plaque and blood clots from coming loose and floating freely in your bloodstream. Following the procedure, you will need to take medications to help prevent clotting within the stent. As your artery begins to heal, your own tissue will begin to merge with the mesh of the stent, adding strength to your artery.
A particular type of stent, called a drug-eluting stent (DES), is sometimes used. It’s coated with medication to lower your risk of restenosis. Restenosis happens when your artery narrows again.
What are the benefits of cardiac stenting?
For many people, stenting has a positive impact on quality of life. The combination of angioplasty and stenting can be a lifesaver, especially when performed right after a heart attack.
It can substantially improve your blood flow and prevent further damage to your heart muscle. It can also improve symptoms of heart disease, such as chest pain (angina) and shortness of breath. In many cases, you will feel the benefits immediately.
In some cases, stenting may eliminate your need for coronary bypass surgery. Stenting is much less invasive than bypass surgery. The recovery time is also a lot shorter. It only takes a few days to recover from stenting, while you may take six weeks or longer to recover from bypass surgery.
Whether or not you’re a good candidate for stenting depends on many factors, including how many arteries are blocked and other health conditions you may have.
What are the risks and complications of cardiac stenting?
As with many medical procedures, you may experience an allergic reaction to the medications or materials used for angioplasty and stenting. Angioplasty can also cause bleeding, damage to your blood vessel or heart, or irregular heartbeat. Other potential but rare complications include heart attack, kidney failure, and stroke.
Following the procedure, scar tissue can form inside your stent. If that happens, a second procedure may be needed to clear it. There’s also a risk of blood clots forming within your stent. You will need to take medications to help prevent this. Report any chest pain to your doctor right away.
While stenting can result in remarkable improvement, it’s not a cure for heart disease. You still need to address contributing factors, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and being overweight. Your doctor may prescribe medications or other treatments to help address these issues. They may also encourage you to:
- eat a well-balanced diet
- exercise regularly
- quit smoking
Taking steps to control your cholesterol and blood pressure, and leading a heart-healthy lifestyle, can help you treat and prevent heart disease.