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Heart Stent

After heart stent surgery, many can lead an active lifestyle.

A heart stent is a tube that is inserted into clogged arteries to allow proper blood flow. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
A heart stent is a tube that is inserted into clogged arteries to allow proper blood flow.

Heart Stent

Heart stent surgery is conducted on patients with clogged arteries leading to their heart. Heart stents are tubes inserted into the arteries to open them and allow blood to flow smoothly into and out of the heart. Some stents, called drug-eluting stents, are coated with drugs released over time to help prevent the arteries from closing again.

According the American Heart Association, about 400,000 Americans every year have a heart attack that blocks blood flow to the heart. The preferred treatment is the insertion of a stent.

History and Development of Heart Stents

In 1969, Charles Dotter invented the coronary stent. Through the 1980s, he refined and developed the stent with colleague Andrew Craig, who later introduced an expandable stent made out of nitinol that's still used today. In 1986, Jacques Puel and Ulrich Sigwart implanted the first stent into a human coronary artery in France. In the United States, Julio Palmaz and Richard Schatz also developed stents, which were approved for use in 1994.

Over the years, stent designs, materials, coatings and tissue-metal interface have been developed in addition to accompanying drug treatments. Today, there are coated stents and drug-eluting stents with drugs imbedded in a thin polymer for time-release.

Candidates for a Heart Stent

Those who suffer from the type of heart disease known as atherosclerosis are candidates for angioplasty and heart stent. Atherosclerosis is the build-up of fatty plaques in the heart's blood vessels that, when clogged and unable to allow blood to flow smoothly through the vessels to the heart, cause chest pains or a heart attack. When drugs, diet and lifestyle changes do not improve the patient's condition, the person will likely need surgery.

Heart stent surgery is not appropriate for all patients. Use of stents depends on the size of the artery and where the blockage is located. People who have a narrow main artery supplying the left side of the heart, have a weak heart muscle or have small diseased blood vessels should avoid heart stent surgery. These patients likely will have better results with coronary bypass surgery.

Angioplasty and Heart Stent Surgery

Angioplasty is often paired with heart stent surgery. According to the American Heart Association, 70 percent of coronary angioplasty surgeries also include heart stenting.

With an angioplasty, the surgeon inserts a thin guide wire in a large artery in the groin area. The wire guides a catheter that goes all the way up the artery to where the blockage is located in the heart. A small balloon follows the catheter through the artery. The surgeon inflates the balloon, which expands the space inside the artery to make room for the stent. The heart stent, a flexible metal tube, is inserted into the clogged artery to enlarge it and support the walls. The stent keeps the arteries open for blood to flow through more easily. A few weeks after the surgery, the lining of the artery grows over the metal surface of the stent.

After surgery the patient may have bleeding or discomfort where the catheter was inserted, get an infection or fever, feel faint or weak or develop chest pain or shortness of breath.

Heart stent surgery increases the blood flow through the artery resulting in decreased chest pain. This surgery may delay or eliminate the future need for coronary artery bypass surgery. The patient may also be better able to exercise and lead an active lifestyle.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, risks associated with angioplasty and heart stent surgery include heart attack or stroke (in rare occurrences), irregular heart beats, allergic reaction, bleeding or clotting, damage to a heart valve or blood vessel or kidney failure in those who already have kidney problems.

Recovery and Follow-Up for Heart Stent Surgery

Following heart stent surgery, patients take aspirin or clopidogrel (Plavix) to thin the blood and prevent blood clots in the arteries and stent. Aspirin may cause an upset stomach, and clopidogrel can cause side effects as well, so patients should be monitored by their doctors. Doctors may also prescribe cholesterol-lowering drugs to prevent the blockage of other arteries or reblockage of the stented artery.

According to the American Heart Association, some studies have suggested that blood clots may develop more than a year following stent placement. It is imperative for patients to continue taking their medication after heart stent surgery even if they feel fine and have no adverse reaction to the surgery.

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