Heart Stents, Part 1: Are you asking the right questions?

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Over the past 20 years, treatment options for coronary artery disease (CAD) has become much more effective and commonplace. This often leads patients to ask fewer questions about treatment options, advances, and benefits. Instead, questions focus on monetary cost and logistics of the planned procedure versus how quickly they will return to normal daily activities.

Stents are one frequently used treatment option for CAD. When plaque builds up inside an artery, blood flow to the heart can be compromised. The blockage leads to coronary artery disease and can result in chest pain and a heart attack.

Most stents are tiny wire mesh tubes placed within an artery to help keep it open and blood flowing as needed. A medicine coating on the stents is slowly released to prevent re-blockage of the artery.

Asking the right questions

A Harris Poll survey showed that most Americans have little information about stents until they develop CAD. What questions should patients be asking? What are the latest developments in stent technology? What benefits do these advances offer patients? Who are the best candidates?

Knowing the right questions to ask proved to be of special significance for CAD patient Shawna Dukes. A combination of active research and persistence with doctors enabled Shawna to ask the right questions, which ultimately saved her life. After consulting with a number of physicians who could not determine the cause of her extreme fatigue and overall discomfort, she finally found answers from her interventional cardiologist. He determined that getting a stent that promotes faster healing was the right treatment option for her, and one that gave her back control of her health again.

A conversation with a stent patient and cardiologist

Shawna and her interventional cardiologist, Colin Barker, M.D. took the time to answer a few questions regarding her situation and results.

This is part one of a two-part series of questions and answers about heart stents. This first part looks at Shawna’s experience, and the second part looks at Dr. Barker’s thoughts on how stent technology has changed, as well the lifespan of stents and where to seek more information.

Lisa Nelson, RD: Shawn, please tell us about your heart condition and how your personal research led to a diagnosis and treatment path?

Shawna Dukes: I’m a very active person. I live a very active lifestyle. Several months ago, out of the blue while I was doing one of those activities of working out, I had troubling symptoms of throat and neck tightness. I had chest tightness on my left side. I had numbness that ran down my left arm.

They were symptoms that I had never experienced before. It definitely got my attention. Over the next several weeks, I had them again and again. It led me to my primary care doctor. Through him and a couple more doctors, and about ten diagnostic tests along the way, I was told I had coronary artery disease and angina. I was given medication for that.

But it limited my lifestyle. I couldn’t do the things I was doing before without those symptoms flaring up. I really didn’t think that was my best solution. It didn’t sit well with me, that this was going to be my new normal. With my symptoms that kept breaking through, even when I was on medication, on a particular day when they were very severe, I thought, “I really need to seek someone else. I need to get an answer from someone else.”

That led me to Dr. Barker. The day that I had the very severe symptoms, he saw me. Finally, I learned the cause of it. It was the 90% blockage of a major artery of my heart. That day, he had me in the cath lab. He performed a procedure to implant a stent. It’s the SYNERGY stent that I received. Within minutes, I felt better. A few weeks later, I was back to my very active lifestyle of working out every day and walking a couple of miles with my dog. It just restored my life and gave it back to me.

Lisa Nelson RD: Did your primary care doctor assist you in connecting with Dr. Barker or did you have to be proactive and research on your own?

Shawna Dukes: I was proactive and did searching on my own. My primary care doctor led me to other doctors. But I ended up having to be proactive and seek out some friends I knew that were familiar with his practice.

Lisa Nelson: Shawna, what do you want people to learn from your story?

Shawna: I want people to understand that this isn’t something that happens to a certain group of people, people who look a certain way or have high cholesterol. It happened to me. It can really happen to anyone. They should listen to their symptoms, know when things are out of the ordinary, seek treatment, and go to their doctor.

If they’re not satisfied with the opinions, then they need to seek out another opinion. Be very persistent. They need to be their own advocate with their healthcare. After I had the stent placed, I went to BostonScientific.com/synergypatient. It was a great resource. It gave me a lot of information on the stent that was placed in me. It had a lot of good information on diagnosis and treatment options.

Next: Heart Stents, Part 2: A Conversation With a Cardiologist About Stents** See More Helpful Articles:**

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Lisa Nelson is a dietitian/nutritionist with a genetic predisposition for high cholesterol and heart disease. She guides clients to lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels through practical diet and lifestyle changes. Learn more and sign up to receive How to Make Heart Healthy Changes into Lifelong Habits at http://lisanelsonrd.com.

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