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Sunday, August 19, 2012

What You Need to Know about Heart Stents

What exactly is a heart stent? A coronary (heart) stent is an expandable metallic tube used to open (stent) a blocked artery which feeds the heart itself.  A blocked coronary artery starves the heart for oxygen when it tries to work more typically causing chest pain, chest tightness or heaviness, pain/numbness to the left neck or arm and/or shortness of breath.  Women and the elderly may have atypical symptoms such as fatigue, indigestion and shortness of breath.

What types of stents are there?  There are two types in general, those that are coated with a drug (drug eluting) and those that are not (bare metal stents).  Because stents are foreign bodies in your body, they tend to promote clotting.  Clotting of a stent occurs less so with a drug-eluting stent.  Learn more about types of stents.

Why do I need to take a "blood thinner"?  Because a stent may itself clot off, patients are often prescribed medications such as Plavix, Effient, Ticlid and/or aspirin in order to reduce the risk of clotting.

Why do I still have chest pain/symptoms after my heart stent? A heart stent is of a certain fixed size and the instrument (catheter) that is used to insert it is of a fixed size; whereas, your blood vessels taper to ever smaller caliber the farther it goes out like the branches of a tree.  Due to limitations of how far into the blood vessel the catheter can go, we are not able to stent open blocked areas beyond the catheters limit.  So even though you may have a stent opening a major blockage, we cannot do much about the blockages beyond that point.  Certain diseases like diabetes causes blockages throughout the course of an artery.  Stenting an accessible (proximal) blockage is simply an insurance against a catastrophic event like a sudden major heart attack but the farther (distal) blockages will continue to starve the heart for oxygen and thus, symptoms, though improved, may persist.

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