Carolinas HealthCare System

Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute
Heart Stent Basics: The Procedure and Recovery
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Stenting is one of the most common and minimally invasive ways to treat blocked arteries. Yesterday, we talked about heart stent basics. Today, we discuss how stents are used, and what recovery is like.

What does the procedure involve?

  • Receiving a stent is an invasive procedure that begins with an angiography test to determine the number and exact location of blockages. Once the doctor has determined if any blockages need treatment, he or she will implant the stent. Stents are inserted through a catheter to the treatment site in the coronary artery. This will penetrate the blockage and provide support for the stent deliver system.
  • A tiny deflated balloon is then inserted inside the blockage and once inside, will be inflated. By inflating the balloon, the plaque is squeezed against the wall of the coronary artery, which widens the artery.
  • Another tiny deflated balloon with a stent mounted on it will be inserted to the blockage. The balloon will be inflated and it will expand the stent that surrounds it. The stent then locks in place against the artery wall, helping to keep the artery open.
  • Once the stent is fully expanded, X-ray pictures will show how much blood flow has improved by adding the stent. When the doctor is satisfied that the stent is fully open and adequate blood flow has been restored, the balloon catheter and guide catheter will be removed. The stent is left in place to help keep the artery open. Most patients will stay at the hospital overnight after receiving a stent.
  • Stents and other heart procedures on blocked arteries, such as cardiac catherizations and percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) are very common in the United States. According to the American Heart Association, approximately 500,000 patients underwent (PCI) procedures in 2010.

Recovery

  • Patients typically feel well in a matter of days following surgery. It is common for patients to feel some mild discomfort from where the balloon was inflated because the artery is being stretched. Other possible complications include damage to blood vessel from the catheter, infection, blood clots and damage to kidneys from the dye used during the procedure.
  • Most patients stay overnight and return home the day after the procedure. The amount of time that a patient stays in the hospital will depend on if there were any difficulties during the procedure and how well the catheter insertion site is healing. After returning home, patients should rest and continue to drink plenty of fluids to help rid the body of the contrast dye.
  • When discharged, the patient will be given a small identification card to keep in their wallet. This card will contain important information about the stent, its location in the patient’s body, the date of procedure, and the patient’s doctor’s name and contact information. All patients who have a stent should have this card with them at all times.
  • There are some precautions any patient should take after a stent procedure. To prevent blood clotting, taking an aspirin along with another anticlotting medicine can help prevent blood clots from forming. After a stent procedure, patients should avoid vigorous exercise and heavy lifting until his or her doctor says otherwise. Patients shouldn’t have a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test for a couple months if a metal stent was inserted. Metal detectors used in airports and other screening areas don't affect stents and the stent shouldn’t go off in the metal detectors.
  • Most people are able to return to work and their normal routines after about a week from the procedure. Stents help prevent arteries from becoming narrow or blocked again in the months or years after angioplasty. However, making lifestyle changes can help prevent plaque/fatty material from building up in arteries again. Changing your diet, quitting smoking, being physically active, losing weight and reducing stress are all positive lifestyle changes that could help keep arteries healthy.
    • These are common, and, according to the American Heart Association, in 2010, approximately 500,000 patients underwent PCI procedures in the United States.
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