What is a stent?
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 be made of a specialized fabric. Stents can also be coated with medication to help keep a blocked artery from closing.
Stents are usually needed 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 to prevent aneurysms from rupturing in your brain, aorta, or other blood vessels.
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. For a stent placed in a blood vessel, you’ll usually prepare by taking these steps:
- 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 naproxen.
- 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 intravenous (IV) medication 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. They 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. Then they will 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
Few complications have been reported with stents, but there’s a slight chance the body will reject the stent. This risk should be discussed with your doctor. Stents have metal components, and some people are allergic or sensitive to metals. Stent manufacturers recommend that if anyone has a sensitivity to metal, they should not receive a stent. Speak with your doctor for more information.
If you have bleeding issues, you will need to be evaluated by your doctor. In general, you should discuss these issues with your doctor. They can give you the most current information related to your personal concerns.
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 a heart attack or stroke.
When you return home, drink plenty of fluids and restrict physical activity for some time. Make sure to follow all of your doctor’s instructions.