An arterial stent is a tube made out of metal mesh which is inserted into an artery to hold it open. This is used for arteries that are weakened or clogged, allowing blood to pass through the artery unrestricted. Placing an arterial stent is generally a safe procedure, although it does have some risks.
Any artery can need an arterial stent, including the coronary arteries in the heart, the carotid arteries in the neck, the arteries of the arms and legs, and the abdominal arteries. Fatty plaque buildup due to high cholesterol and/or high blood pressure is the most common reason for an arterial stent. If a stent is not used in these cases, the artery could become blocked and result in a heart attack, stroke, or other serious condition. It is possible to receive a stent that is coated in medication that further helps keep plaque from building up in the artery.
Placing an arterial stent takes between a half hour and a couple of hours and is done in hospital, either under local anesthetic and sedation or under general anesthetic depending on where the stent is going. Stents are usually placed immediately after a procedure called angioplasty, which temporarily widens the artery using a catheter and a small balloon. This helps the doctor place the stent more easily and accurately. The patient will not feel the insertion of the catheter or the stent, though there may be some brief pain when the balloon is opened to widen the artery.
There are a few risks related to having an arterial stent, both during the procedure and after it has been done. Like any medical procedure, there may be complications such as bleeding, allergic reactions to the sedative and other medication given, or infection. These risks are rare, since arterial stenting is a relatively common and uncomplicated procedure. Choosing a competent and experienced surgeon is always important to reduce the risk of complications.
After stent surgery, patients will need to avoid heavy lifting and vigorous exercise for a while, and should follow the doctor's instructions about resuming normal activities. Patients with an arterial stent may potentially develop a blood clot at the stent site, which can be very dangerous. This is more likely in the first couple of months after the stent procedure, and so patients will usually take blood-thinning medication for at least the first few months to prevent clots from forming. It is also possible for arteries that have previously been held open with stents to re-close as the tissue grows over the mesh of the stent, necessitating more surgery later on.