Stents are used to restore blood flow in arteries that have narrowed due to plaque build-up. Angioplasty is the procedure used for placing stents. Stent placement is not considered major surgery and takes approximately one hour.
Your doctor makes a tiny incision in a groin, arm, or neck blood vessel. Then a catheter is threaded through the blood vessel to the blocked artery.
Your doctor is able to monitor catheter location through live X-ray video during the procedure to ensure proper placement. A special dye is injected to show blood flow throughout your body and easily identify where your artery is blocked or narrowed.
The catheter is a thin, flexible tube with a deflated medical balloon at the tip. The deflated balloon is surrounded by a stent. This tiny balloon at the end of the catheter is inflated inside the blocked artery to widen the artery and allow blood flow. The inflated balloon expands the stent and embeds the stent into the artery. Once the stent is placed within the artery, the balloon is deflated and removed with the catheter.
The stent stays within the artery to help prevent the artery from future blockage or narrowing. Once placed, a stent cannot be removed. Eventually, arterial cells will cover the mesh of the stent with the inner layer looking like a normal blood pressure.
Depending on stent location and severity of the blockage, additional steps might include gradually increasing balloon size until the artery can be widened enough to place the stent, and using a filter in the carotid arteries to prevent blood clots and plaque from moving to the brain during the procedure.
Prior to a stent placement procedure, discuss with your doctor:
- Medications you are taking and what you should or should not take 24 hours prior
- What to stop eating or drinking within how many hours of the procedure (let your doctor know if you consume more than one or two drinks of alcohol daily)
- When to stop smoking
- Any illness, cold, flu, fever, etc. you may be fighting
- What to expect after the procedure (how soon will you be walking, when you will likely be discharged)
- How to care for yourself and any medications you will be taking while recovering
There are risks associated with stent placement, which include:
- Blood vessel damage from the catheter
- Allergic reaction to the stent medication or dye
- Irregular heartbeat
- Blood clot
- Heart attack
If you are at risk for coronary artery disease, be proactive and change your diet and lifestyle to reduce that risk. Unhealthy levels of cholesterol is one risk factor that leads to plaque build-up and arterial blockage.