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What Is the Connection between Angiograms and Stents?

By Synthia L. Rose
Updated May 17, 2024
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Angiograms and stents are both angioplasty tools used to remedy clogged arteries and improve cardiovascular health. Angioplasty is a medical procedure that uses stents to forcibly widen blood vessels that have walls covered with plaque, dangerously limiting the amount of oxygen to the heart. To identify the obstructed arteries that need to be held open by stents, doctors give patients angiograms, which are imaging tests capable of creating a visual outline of arteries. Since angiograms are typically performed as an immediate prelude to angioplasty, patients can have angiograms and stents done on the same day, resulting in quick procedure and a one-night hospital stay.

During a traditional angiogram, a surgeon inserts a catheter into the patient’s arm or leg and injects a contrast dye into the blood vessels. The patient is given electromagnetic radiation or x-radiation, or x-rays. Images produced from the X-rays show an outline of the arteries, with the contrast dye enabling physicians to see which arteries are wide enough for proper blood flow and which ones are too narrow. Based on these images, the doctor determines which arteries need stents placed in them to expand the width.

Stents are non-corrosive metal braces that prop open an artery to improve circulation. Since traditional angiograms and stents both require catheters, the surgeon usually retains the same catheter used for the angiogram and uses it to insert the stent. A deflated balloon is first inserted through the catheter into the chosen artery and then inflated to compress the plaque and mark the spot for the stent. After that, the stent is inserted into the artery; the balloon and catheter are removed.

Two non-traditional types of angiograms bypass the use of catheters. Computer tomography (CT) angiograms and magnetic resonance angiograms (MRA) use intravenous therapy (IV) lines inserted into the leg or arm to inject dyes into the patient. In such cases, a catheter must be inserted solely for stent placement.

Patients who run the risk of needing angiograms and stents include sufferers of cardiovascular disease, peripheral artery disease, renovascular problems and deep vein thrombosis. Other candidates are people over the age of 60, particularly those with diets high in fat or those who have high cholesterol. The main symptom that angiograms and stents might be needed is a sharp pain or tightening in the chest. Benefits of angioplasty include a reduced risk of heart attack and avoidance of blood clots — although some patients highly sensitive to clotting must take medication to prevent blood from clotting around the stent.

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