Coronary Artery Stent

What is a stent?

A stent is a tiny device made of surgical stainless steel. Your healthcare provider will use a thin tube called a catheter to place the stent inside an artery to hold the artery open and allow more blood to flow through the blood vessel.

When are coronary stents used?

A stent may be used when you have coronary arteries that are narrowed or blocked by plaque. The coronary arteries are the blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle. Plaque is a buildup of fats, cholesterol, and other substances on the inside walls of the arteries. The stent may be placed in your artery when you have a procedure called angioplasty to open your artery. The procedure can restore blood flow in the artery without major surgery. Sometimes coronary stents are used during an acute heart attack to quickly restore blood flow to the heart muscle and limit damage from the attack.

Ask your healthcare provider about your choices for treatment and the risks.

How do I prepare for this procedure?

  • Make plans for your care and recovery after you have the procedure. Allow for time to rest and try to find other people to help with your day-to-day tasks while you recover.
  • You may or may not need to take your regular medicines the day of the procedure. Some medicines (like aspirin) may increase your risk of bleeding during or after the procedure. Tell your healthcare provider about all medicines and supplements that you take. Ask your provider if you need to avoid taking any medicine or supplements before the procedure.
  • Tell your healthcare provider if you have any food or medicine allergies.
  • Tell your healthcare provider if you have had any kidney problems or reactions to iodine-containing foods or chemicals, such as seafood or X-ray contrast dye.
  • Follow any other instructions your healthcare provider gives you.
  • Your healthcare provider will talk about your choices for treatment and explain the procedure and any risks. You should understand what your healthcare provider is going to do and how long it will take you to recover. You have the right to make decisions about your healthcare and to give permission for any tests or procedures.

What happens during the procedure?

This procedure is usually done at the hospital.

You will be given medicine to help you relax and a local anesthetic to numb the place where the catheter will be inserted. You will stay awake during the procedure.

Someone at the hospital will shave and wash the area where the catheter will be inserted (arm or groin) to help prevent infection.

Your healthcare provider will put a catheter into a blood vessel in your arm or groin. A catheter is a very thin, flexible tube. X-rays and a dye injected through the catheter may be used to help show where the catheter is as your provider moves the catheter to the blocked artery. The stent comes tightly wrapped around a deflated balloon at the tip of the catheter. Inflating the balloon stretches the narrowed artery and expands the stent. After the stent is fully expanded, the balloon is deflated, and the catheter and balloon are removed. The stent stays behind to hold open the blood vessel.

What happens after the procedure?

After the procedure you will go back to your hospital room and rest in bed. You will have a pressure dressing on the area where the catheter was inserted to prevent bleeding.

The length of time that you will need to stay in the hospital will depend on the reason you needed the procedure and how well you recover. This is often 2 to 3 days after you have the procedure.

The stent will stay in your blood vessel. Over time, it may get covered with tissue from the inner lining of your artery. Blood may begin to form a clot on the surface of the stent. You will be given blood-thinning drugs to stop blood clots from forming on the stent. Usually the blood thinners are a combination of aspirin and a medicine called clopidogrel (Plavix), which you will take for a period of time after the procedure.

Many stents are designed to release a drug from a special coating on the stent. The drug prevents scar tissue from growing and blocking the artery. The drug slows the growth of normal tissue as well as scar tissue. You may need to take blood thinners for at least 3 to 6 months if you have this kind of stent.

Your healthcare provider may advise you to take a low dose of aspirin every day for the rest of your life.

Follow your healthcare provider's instructions. Ask your provider:

  • How long it will take to recover
  • What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

What are the risks of this procedure?

Every procedure or treatment has risks. Some possible risks of this procedure include:

  • You may have problems with anesthesia.
  • You may have infection, bleeding, or blood clots.
  • You may have an allergic reaction to medicines or the dye used during the procedure.
  • The dye could damage the kidneys. If you have diabetes or kidney disease, you may have a higher risk for kidney damage. Your healthcare provider may want you to take medicine before and after the test to help protect your kidneys.
  • The procedure can cause irregular heart rhythms, which could need treatment.
  • The catheter may damage an artery, for example, the blood vessel in the groin or arm where the catheter was inserted.
  • While not common, a heart attack or stroke might be triggered by the procedure.

Ask your healthcare provider how these risks apply to you. Be sure to discuss any other questions or concerns that you may have.

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