Understanding angioplasty and stents: What heart patients need to know

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If you have recently suffered from a heart attack or some kind of heart problem, your doctor might have used words like angioplasty and stent placement while explaining your treatment procedure. Confused about these? But worry not as we are here to explain what these treatment methods entail. In this article, we will discuss what angioplasty and stents are, how they work, and what you can expect if you need to undergo these procedures.

What is angioplasty?

“Angioplasty and stents are medical procedures used to treat blocked or narrowed blood vessels,” says Dr P.K. Grant, Cardiologist, Ruby Hall Clinic. These procedures are typically used to treat coronary artery disease, which is a condition that occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart become narrowed or blocked, leading to chest pain or heart attack.

Dr Grant further explains that angioplasty is a minimally invasive procedure that is performed to widen narrowed or blocked arteries. During the procedure, a thin tube called a catheter is inserted into an artery in your groin or arm and guided to the site of the blockage in your heart. A tiny balloon is then inflated to compress the plaque that is blocking the artery, which widens the artery and restores blood flow to the heart. This procedure is also known as percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA) or it is commonly known as angioplasty.

Angioplasty surgery will help solve your heart problem! Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

Also read: Widowmaker heart attack: All about the most dangerous type of heart attack

How does a stent work?

In some cases, a stent may be placed during an angioplasty procedure. A stent is a small mesh tube that is placed in the artery to help keep it open after the balloon is removed. The stent acts as a scaffold, holding the artery open and preventing it from collapsing or becoming blocked again. Stents may be made of metal, plastic, or a combination of materials. “In people with coronary artery disease (CAD) caused by the buildup of plaque, stents can open narrow arteries, reduce symptoms like chest pain and can help treat a heart attack,” says Dr Grant. These types are called heart stents, but they are also referred to as cardiac stents or coronary stents.

Stents will help open up the arteries and reduce your chest pain!

Types of stents

There are two main types of stents: bare-metal stents and drug-eluting stents:

1. Bare-metal stents are made of metal and are used to prop open the artery after an angioplasty procedure. They are typically used in patients who cannot take blood-thinning medications, such as aspirin or clopidogrel.

2. Drug-eluting stents are coated with medications that help prevent the artery from becoming blocked again. These stents are typically used in patients who are at high risk of restenosis, or the re-narrowing of the artery.

The types of stent will be suggested to you according to the severity of your problem. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Angioplasty procedure

Angioplasty and stent placement are typically performed in a cardiac catheterization lab. It is a specialised room in a hospital or clinic that is equipped with advanced imaging equipment and other specialised tools. The procedure is usually done under local anesthesia, which means that you will be awake but numb in the area where the catheter is inserted.

Also read: Give your heart some extra care post cardiac surgery to avoid complications

What happens after angioplasty?

After the procedure, you will need to stay in the hospital for a short period of time to be monitored for any complications. Most patients can return to their normal activities within a few days, although strenuous activities should be avoided for a few weeks.

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