What is the Connection Between Angioplasty and a Stent?

Matt Brady

Angioplasty and a stent are used to expand obstructed arteries and increase blood flow to the heart. Angioplasty surgery is performed by inserting a deflated balloon catheter into an obstructed or narrowed artery, and inflating the balloon to expand the artery and clear any blockage. A stent is a mesh tubing that—using a balloon catheter—can be expanded to support the walls of an artery to ensure they don’t narrow again. If doctors think an individual has a high risk of heart attack, they may recommend angioplasty and a stent as a preventative measure. In other cases, doctors may opt for angioplasty and a stent as an emergency response to a patient suffering from heart attack.

An angioplasty is used to place a stent.
An angioplasty is used to place a stent.

A basic description of angioplasty may lead someone to think of a procedure along the lines of open heart surgery, but it's not nearly that invasive. Angioplasty and a stent require a minimally invasive procedure that leaves only a tiny scar around the groin area—the primary location doctors use to insert a balloon catheter and thread it up an obstructed artery. The surgery also has a shorter operation and recovery time than such surgeries as heart bypass surgery, and it can usually be done on an outpatient basis.

Angioplasty and stent procedure is commonly used for preventing and treating heart attacks.
Angioplasty and stent procedure is commonly used for preventing and treating heart attacks.

Without a stent, angioplasty leaves nothing behind, requiring only the insertion of a balloon catheter long enough to clear out an artery. Angioplasty and a stent, however, involves leaving behind mesh stent tubing to permanently prevent restenosis, the re-narrowing of an artery. Over time, artery walls actually grow around the stent, which further reinforces its support. Tissue growth around a stent, however, can be a potential problem if excessive growth threatens to re-block an artery in spite of a stent.

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There are two major kinds of stents that doctors may opt to use: basic bare-metal stents and drug-eluting stents. Bare-metal tubing stents are the simplest in design and function, consisting of nothing more than wire mesh that props open an obstructed artery. Drug-eluting stents are made with a coating of medication, which an artery slowly absorbs over time. The medication helps increase blood flow by keeping an artery healthy, and it also helps prevent restenosis by preventing excessive scarring and tissue growth over the stent.

Angioplasty and stent procedure is today one of the most commonly used for preventing and treating heart attacks. It’s one of the few procedures that’s roughly as safe as it is effective, and that is easier to perform than more laborious heart procedures. It’s also preferred by patients for its quick recovery time and lack of significant scarring.

Patients remain awake during angioplasty surgery.
Patients remain awake during angioplasty surgery.

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