Why get heart stent?
A stent is a small mesh tube used to treat narrow or weakened arteries, which carry blood away from your heart. Stents are usually made of metal mesh, but some fabric stents are used in larger arteries.
A stent is generally placed as part of a procedure known as angioplasty. The stent will support the inner wall of your blocked artery, while the angioplasty procedure helps restore blood flow through the artery or arteries that were blocked.
You might need a stent because you have a blockage in a coronary artery, which is how your heart receives its own supply of blood. Your heart muscle will need more blood than it can get, usually in stressful situations, such as during exercise. If the blockage is limiting blood flow, and you have symptoms that include chest discomfort and a squeezing situation that can't be treated with medication, your doctor might recommend a stent to improve your symptoms.
What happens when you get a heart stent?
You might not be fully asleep during the procedure. Some hospitals might choose to place you under conscious sedation. You'll be relaxed but aware enough to communicate with your surgeon if he or she has any questions, or if you are having pain during the stent placement.
After you are somewhat sedated, a medical staff member will numb the entry point for the procedure. During a stent procedure, your chest is not cracked open. Rather, to begin the procedure, your surgeon will run a wire through one of your arteries, generally either through an artery in your leg, called the femoral artery, or an artery in your arm, the radial artery.
A one-way sheath will be inserted that doesn't allow blood to come out. Once that's in, you'll generally be given blood thinners to help prevent clotting. Your surgeon will use a small wire and catheter to go up your arm or leg to the base of the aorta, the body's main conduit out of the heart.
From there, your surgeon will use wires to reach the blockage in your heart. Your surgeon generally deploys a tiny balloon, which will open up the area and allow for the stent to be placed. Throughout the surgery, your doctor will take photos of your heart at various angles to ensure everything is going well.
Does it hurt?
During the surgery, while you're under conscious sedation, you generally are able to tell your doctor if you're experiencing major pain. The place where your doctor inserted the wire will likely be sore after the procedure.
What are risk factors?
One of the most common problems with any surgery is bleeding. In rare circumstances, you can experience serious bleeding or develop a pseudoaneurysm, which occurs when an artery or the heart chamber is injured and causes blood to pool outside the artery's wall.
Some people are allergic the dye used during the procedure, which contains iodine. The amount of dye could affect your kidney function, but this isn't common.
Rare risk factors include a heart attack caused by the procedure, a stroke or the need for additional procedures. You should talk with your doctor about any concerns you have about the procedure.
What's recovery time?
Many people spend the night in the hospital and go home the next day. This isn't always the case. Some people are able to go home the same day, depending on how they're recovering after surgery. If you don't have other health issues, such as diabetes, you might not have to stay the night in the hospital.
If you had a significant blockage, you might start to feel better immediately.
What's the follow-up?
Your doctor will want to check in with you after your surgery and likely see you back a few times.
After the surgery, it is important to quit smoking, lose weight and take medicine your doctor prescribes, including blood pressure medicine and blood thinners. Listening to your doctor about taking your medications and making lifestyle changes is incredibly important after a stent procedure. Taking these actions decreases your risk for developing serious complications or needing another stent procedure.
Source: Joseph Horstman, an interventional cardiologist at the Oklahoma Heart Hospital; National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; Cleveland Clinic; The Mayo Clinic