Overview of heart stents
Heart stent placement is a procedure to treat narrow or weak arteries. Stents are tubes that support the inner walls of an artery to keep them open. Stents may be made of metal mesh or fabric. Doctors usually combine heart stent placement with angioplasty. Angioplasty is a catheter procedure to open narrowed or blocked arteries.
Some stents have a coating of medicine that releases over time to help prevent the artery from becoming blocked. These are called drug-eluting stents.
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Why it's necessary
Stenting is necessary when your arteries are blocked or narrowed by atherosclerotic plaque. This plaque is made of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other materials found in blood. Over time, the plaque hardens and narrows your arteries, putting you at risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Your doctor will perform a variety of tests to see if you are a good candidate for a stent. These tests include:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) checks for aneurysms and pinpoints the size and location.
- Coronary angiography records how blood flows through your coronary arteries. Your blood will be injected with dye so that your blood vessels show up on x-ray.
- Computer tomography angiography (CTA) and magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) give your doctor information about whether your arteries are narrowed and about the flow of blood, by taking pictures of your blood vessels.
- Echocardiography is used to check the structure of your heart using sound waves to create pictures.
- Nuclear imaging shows whether blood is flowing to the heart by using a tracer substance.
- Ultrasound can be used to check your carotid or peripheral arteries for plaque or aneurysm.
Common conditions treated with heart stents
Doctors may suggest angioplasty and stenting to treat:
- Coronary artery disease (CAD): narrowing of the arteries supplying the heart muscle
- Peripheral arterial disease (PAD): narrowed arteries in the limbs (usually the legs)
- Renal artery stenosis: narrowing of the arteries supplying the kidneys
- Carotid artery disease: narrowing of the arteries supplying the brain
- Aortic problems: a weak area (aortic aneurysm) or tear in the wall of the aorta
- Drug-eluting stents are the most common type of stent. They're coated with medicine that releases over time to prevent the artery from narrowing again.
- Bare metal stents are tubes made of metal mesh and are used in coronary and carotid arteries.
- Stent grafts are tubes made of leak-proof polyester and a metal mesh backbone. They're typically used for aortic aneurysms.
Angioplasty and stent placement are generally very safe procedures, but there are some possible complications. Complications typically have to do with clotting or bleeding. This can occur where the catheter was inserted or inside the stent. If the stent becomes clogged, it can be very serious.
Other risks include an allergic reaction to the drug used in the drug-eluting stent, stent material, or x-ray dye, damage to heart valves or blood vessels, and infection.
Extreme complications include heart attack, kidney failure, or stroke. These complications are very rare and are often related to pre-existing conditions.
The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.