Let’s face it, anything medically related to the heart is a scary experience for most, especially when one is not aware of the procedure in detail. After all, it is one of the most major organs of our body and is responsible for keeping us alive! Most medical jargon can be confusing and thus, liable to make one even more apprehensive, something that should be avoided when one is already suffering from cardiac complications. While most of us are aware of bypass surgeries, stents are something that many people are either not aware of, or are unsure about the exact nature and working of. If you are one of them, then there is no need to worry anymore. Here is your guide to stents and how they help you lead a fuller and healthier life.
To begin with, let us understand what causes heart disease. As most of us are aware, our heart contains many arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to its muscles and helps it pump. Now, for certain reasons, such as lifestyle, genetic and environmental, these arteries get clogged with fats, specifically, cholesterol. This decreases the blood flow to the heart and makes it pump less efficiently, or worse, causes the blood to clot and leads to a heart attack. This is where stents come into play. These are tiny tubes that are used to keep your arteries wide and blockage free, decreasing the risk of heart disease and to heart ongoing heart attacks. They are usually metallic in nature and are coated with medicines that gradually release into the bloodstream and prevent further blockages.
How does the process work?
To begin with, a small incision is made in a blood vessel located in your abdomen, arm or neck. Your cardiac surgeon will then insert a small tube known as a catheter through the vessel to the artery which is clogged. This tube contains a tiny balloon at its end, that your doctor will inflate in order to widen the artery and restore blood flow. The stent is then placed and the balloon and catheter are removed. The procedure typically lasts an hour and requires an overnight hospital stay for observation. Risks for getting a stent may include: 1) Hemorrhage at the spot of tube insertion. 2) Blood vessel damage at the time of insertion. 3) Infection. 4) Arrhythmia. 5) In rare cases (1-2%), people implanted with a stent may develop a clot at the site of stent placement, increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke. As this risk is maximum during the first couple of months post-procedure, you will most likely be put on a course of aspirin or some other blood thinners to prevent clot formation.
Is a stent permanent?
In most cases these days, yes. A stent is a permanent wire mesh implant in your artery. While feeling a little worried about having a permanent implant in one’s heart is a scary prospect, the good news is that not all stents are permanent. Dissolving stents are the latest technology available for patients these days. Unlike metal stents that carry a chance of inflammation and resultant blood clots, these temporary stents made of a primer known as polylactic acid, last only about 3-4 years and dissolve into carbon dioxide and water in the end. Instead of the artery being held in place with stiff metal, a dissolving stent lets the artery return to its natural shape and curvature. In fact, stents like those made by Meril, are ultra-thin (50 µm or 65µm) that promote early vessel healing, allow the artery to be flexible and dilate and constrict naturally.
So a dissolving stent is perfectly safe?
There are some drawbacks associated with dissolving stents, namely vessel recoil, the thickness of these stents leading to manoeuvrability and crossing problems, problems in seeing a non-metallic stent through imaging techniques and absence of firm crimping on balloons for delivery. Even with these drawbacks, experts believe that the evidence favours dissolving stents, as they are a rapidly evolving technology. In the near future, dissolving stents will most likely overcome these drawbacks and become the first choice of use for cardiologists.
Can my stent develop a blockage?
Combined with proper diet, exercise and lifestyle changes, your stent implant can last you decades. However, there is a small possibility of the stents developing blockages too. To reduce such occurrences, modern stents are drug-eluting ones that are coated with drugs that reduce the risk of blockages. Even with a stent in place, there are chances that you may develop a coronary artery blockage in other locations or arteries. However, there is no need to live your life in fear. These complications and risks can be easily managed by aspirin therapy, cholesterol and triglyceride control and lifestyle modifications.