U.S. 2022 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics show that someone has a heart attack about every 40 seconds. One American dies from a stroke every three minutes and thirty seconds. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) was the cause of 874,613 death in 2019.
You may have been through this experience or know a friend or family member who has. Stents are often discussed as the treatment for CVD conditions. Do you wonder, “How does a stent work?”
Keep reading this easy-to-understand explanation of CVD stents.
Problems Caused by Clogged Arteries
Arteries are large blood vessels that carry oxygen from the heart to the rest of the body. Too much low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol in the blood can cause atherosclerosis.
The LDL cholesterol sticks to the wall of blood vessels. Over time, it stacks up and makes “plaques”. Now the opening of the blood vessel gets smaller or completely blocked.
This slows or stops the flow of blood carrying oxygen. If part of the body can’t get the oxygen it needs, it will die. The following discusses several common diseases.
Coronary Artery Disease
The heart’s coronary arteries supply blood to its muscles. Cholesterol plaques and/or swelling usually cause coronary artery disease. The vessels narrow and reduce the heart muscle’s oxygen supply.
When this happens, most people feel chest pain, chest pressure, and shortness of breath. If the blocked vessel gets reopened fast enough, the heart muscle won’t die.
Ischemia is the medical word used when the muscle isn’t getting enough oxygen. Infarction means muscle or tissue death as in myocardial infarction (heart attack).
Carotid Arteries Disease
The carotid arteries take the blood from your heart to your head and brain. If they become blocked, you can have transient ischemic attacks (TIA) and/or a stroke.
A TIA means that part of the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen for a short time. If a lack of oxygen lasts longer than a few minutes, the brain tissue dies (a stroke).
Peripheral Artery Disease
Your legs have large arteries that supply blood and nutrients to the muscles. Cholesterol buildup (atherosclerosis) can narrow the vessels. This leads to peripheral artery disease (PAD).
More than 230 million adults around the world have PAD. Problems related to this disease include coronary heart disease, leg amputation, and stroke.
An aortic aneurysm describes a bulging in the wall of a large artery. These vessels carry blood to the chest and torso. A weakness in the vessel wall lets blood push and balloon out the side.
The blood’s pumping pressure can cause a splitting between the wall layers. Blood then leaks between the layers causing a dissection. This causes further damage to the artery.
The aneurysm may also burst open causing large amounts of bleeding inside the body. If this problem isn’t found early and treated, the individual often dies.
Treatments for PAD and other Cardiovascular Issues
Today’s highly effective treatment options combined with early detection are saving lives. Angiograms evaluate symptoms of a possible blockage.
During this procedure, the doctor inserts a thin tube (catheter) into an artery. Next, contrast dye and X-rays help look for blockages or aneurysms. This test may detect problems in any part of the body.
Once found, the doctor may use a stent to treat blockages or weak walls. Treatment decisions depend on the size, location, and the number of blockages.
How Does a Stent Work?
A stent is a small, mesh-like tube that the physician opens to press against the blockage. This creates the normal opening and restores the flow of blood. The stent is left in place to keep the vessel from closing again.
The material differs based on the stent’s use. Those used to treat coronary arteries contain a metal mesh base.
Stent grafts are fabric and often used in larger arteries like the aorta. This type treats aortic aneurysms to stop blood from leaking into the aneurysm.
What Is It Like to Have a Stent?
A stent procedure is “minimally-invasive”. The doctor makes a small incision and inserts a catheter. This offers a safe and effective option to having open-heart surgery.
Angiograms and stent placements take place in a hospital or surgery center. First, most patients are given medication so they will sleep during the procedure. Next thing they know, they’re waking up after it’s over.
Some stent procedures are planned in advance. In other cases, they’re done emergently to try and stop the problem and prevent severe outcomes.
After the Procedure
You’ll receive instructions to follow once you get home. Keep this information close by to answer questions when they arise.
It’s common to feel tired, sore, and have a bruise at the place where they inserted the catheter. This usually lasts for one or two days.
Put a cold pack over the bandaged area for ten to twenty minutes at a time to relieve soreness. Just rest and don’t do anything strenuous during this time. It’s okay to walk around the house, but don’t bend or strain the surgical site.
You may notice a quarter-sized area of bleeding at first which is common. If you see more bleeding, lie down and press on the site for 15 minutes. If it doesn’t stop or your feel concerned, call your doctor’s office, or get medical care.
For 24 hours after anesthesia, avoid making important decisions or signing legal documents. Also, don’t drive or operate heavy machinery.
Drink plenty of fluid to wash the dye out of your body. Eat a heart-healthy diet to promote healing.
Get your prescriptions filled immediately and follow the instructions. Your doctor will let you know when you can start taking a shower. Make sure you attend all follow-up appoints.
Call 911 if you pass out, have trouble breathing, chest pain, or cough up blood. Symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Chest pain/pressure
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Neck, jaw, shoulder, or arm pain
- A fast or uneven pulse
Don’t wait. Immediate treatment can save your life.
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