What is a stent?
A stent is a tiny mesh tube that helps keep an artery open. Your doctor implants a stent in a newly open artery to prevent plaque buildup from blocking the artery again. Stents are often implanted in the arteries in your heart (coronary arteries), neck (carotid arteries), or liver. A stent implant is a procedure that uses local numbing. General anesthesia is usually not needed.
Some stents are coated with a special medication. This medication, which is slowly released over time, helps prevent that segment of the artery from becoming blocked again. The type of stent is called a drug-coated stent or drug-eluting stent.
A stent implant in your coronary arteries may lower your risk of heart attack. A stent implant in you carotid arteries may lower your risk of stroke.
How is the implant procedure done?
Before a stent implant, your doctor may open the blocked artery by performing and atherectomy or balloon angioplasty. Those procedures-and the stent implant- involve catheterization. During a catheterization, a small, flexible tube called a catheter is inserted through a blood vessel in your groin (or sometimes in your arm). Your doctor gently "steers" the catheter toward your blocked vessel. Dye put in through the catheter allows your blood vessels to show up as images on a monitor- almost like roads on a map. (This part of the procedure is called an angiogram.) The catheterization and angiogram are typically part of a stent implant.
After clearing the blockage, the doctor uses a special catheter to place the stent in your newly opened artery. The stent helps:
What can I expect?
Usually you are told not to eat or drink anything for a number of hours before the procedure. Your procedure will be performed in a "cath lab". You lie on an exam table and an intravenous (IV) line is put into your arm. The IV delivers fluid and medications during the procedure. The medication makes you groggy, but not unconscious.
The doctor makes a small incision for the catheter. The area will be numbed so you shouldn't feel pain, but you may feel pressure as the catheter is being inserted. During the stent implant your doctor or nurse might ask you questions- to make sure you don't feel pain, for instance. You may be in the hospital overnight. And there may be tenderness at the incision site. Most people have a fairly quick recovery.