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What is a Heart Stent?

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  • Written By: C. Webb
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 17 February 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2019
    Conjecture Corporation
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A heart stent is a metal-mesh or fabric tube-shaped device that is inserted into the coronary artery during an angioplasty procedure and left there when the procedure is over. Angioplasty is used to widen the path through clogged arteries, and the stent's placement holds the artery open once it is widened. Thirty percent of those who undergo angioplasty and do not receive stents go on to develop blockage again.

Drug-eluting stents have a coating of medication on the outside that is released very slowly. The medication prevents scar tissue from developing around the outside of the heart stent, thereby reducing the risk of scar tissue causing medical complications. Early research indicated the drug-eluting heart stent may increase some patients' heart attack risk; however, later research determined they worked well.

Bare metal stents are not coated with medication, and simply act as a coronary artery tunnel, maintaining a clear pathway for blood to flow to and from the heart. Once the stent is placed, tissue grows around it, which holds it in place. Drug-eluting stents were invented for patients who developed severe scar tissue around bare-metal heart stents, which caused additional blockage.

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Patients are typically awake during a stent placement procedure. Numbing agents are used on the skin before an incision is made in the leg or arm at the entry artery. The stent is collapsed and then placed around the outside of a small balloon attached to a guide wire, which travels through the artery to the heart. Once it arrives at the blockage, the balloon is inflated, thereby widening the blocked artery. When the artery reaches a desired width, the stent expands and is locked into place, and the balloon is deflated and brought back out of the body.

Following the placement of a heart stent, patients are asked to relax at home for several days and avoid driving or physical exertion. Fluids are recommended to flush the contrast dye used in the procedure from the system. Patients are given a list of complications that need immediate medical attention, including chest pain, shortness of breath, and a color change in the limb used for the procedure.

Most heart stent patients are also prescribed blood-thinning medication for the first year following their stent placement. Many physicians also recommend a life-long daily aspirin regime. Following recovery from the procedure, patients should maintain a healthy weight, exercise, and avoid smoking.

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