Coronary stents are small, expandable tubes that treat narrowed arteries in your body. In people with coronary heart disease caused by the buildup of plaque, stents can:
- Open narrowed arteries
- Reduce symptoms, like chest pain
- Help treat a heart attack
Coronary stents are usually made of metal mesh, they’re put into arteries in a procedure called a percutaneous coronary intervention or, its more common name, angioplasty. Performed with local anesthesia and mild sedation, angioplasty involves no major incisions and usually takes about an hour. If you need more than one stent, it can take longer. A very thin, long, balloon-tipped tube, called a catheter, is put into an artery in either the groin or arm. It’s then moved to the blockage with help from an X-ray. Once it’s there, the balloon at the tip of the catheter is inflated, the stent expands, locks into place, and forms a permanent scaffold to hold the artery open after the balloon is deflated and removed.
Compared to coronary artery bypass surgery, which is much more invasive, people who get stents have less discomfort and a shorter recovery time.
But stenting isn’t risk-free. A blood clot can form in one and cause your arteries to narrow again suddenly. It may even cause a complete blockage. To prevent this, people take one or more blood-thinning drugs after they get a stent. These can include asprin which usually must be taken indefinitely, and clopidogrel (Plavix), prasugrel (Effient), or ticagrelor (Brilinta), which are usually prescribed for at least 1 and up to 12 months.
Scar tissue or plaque can also form in the area of your stent. This can cause your artery to narrow again over a period of months. Your doctor may call this restenosis. If it happens, another stent can often solve the problem. In some cases, coronary artery bypass surgery may be needed.