Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common form of heart disease in the U.S. It’s also the leading cause of death. It occurs when the coronary arteries (blood vessels) that carry blood away from your heart get blocked with plaque. Over time, plaque can thicken and harden inside your arteries, blocking the flow of blood to your heart. This thickening is called atherosclerosis (say: “ath-uh-roe-skluh-roe-suhs”). If your heart doesn’t get enough blood to work properly, you may have angina (chest pain) or a heart attack.
Path to improved health
If you have CAD and plaque build-up in your arteries, your doctor may want to insert a stent. A stent will help hold the artery open so blood can flow. It may also help keep the artery from narrowing again.
A stent is a small rod made out of metal or fabric. There are two types of stents:
- Bare-metal stent: This is a stent made of metal that is placed in the artery to help hold it open. Over time, the artery will heal and tissue will grow over the stent, holding it in place.
- Drug-eluting stent: A drug-eluting stent is a metal stent that is coated in medicine. The medicine is slowly released and may help prevent excess tissue from growing over the stent. Excess tissue can cause the artery to narrow again, restricting blood flow.
Stents are place during a procedure called an angioplasty. You’ll be awake during the procedure but given medicine to help you relax. The doctor will make a small incision in an artery in your leg, arm, or neck. The area will be numb so that you won’t feel pain. A small tube, called a catheter, will be inserted into the artery. On the tip of the catheter is a small, deflated balloon. The doctor will put the stent around the deflated balloon. The catheter will be carefully guided into the artery and up to the point of the blockage. The balloon will be inflated to help stretch the artery and allow blood to flow. This also expands the stent. It will permanently sit against the walls of your artery to help keep it open. Once the stent is in place, the balloon is deflated and the catheter and balloon will be removed.
After the procedure, you’ll need to stay in the hospital for a day or two while your heart is monitored. You’ll be given medicine to keep clots from forming and relax your arteries. The place where the incision was made may be sore or tender.
After you return home, you’ll need to take medicine that keeps the stent open and blood flowing. It’s important to take the medicine exactly as your doctor tells you.
In addition to taking medicine, the best way to keep your heart healthy is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Your doctor can help you to do the following:
- Quit smoking.
- Make sure you keep your blood pressure and cholesterol at healthy levels.
- Exercise 30 minutes, 5 days per week.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet.
Things to consider
Once you go home, you will need to rest and relax. You will not be able to exercise or lift heavy objects for about a week. Your doctor will tell you what you can and cannot do while you recover at home.
Call your doctor if you experience symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, or any pain, swelling, or bleeding from the incision area.
Questions for your doctor
- Why do I have plaque blockages in my arteries?
- Will I remember anything that happens during the angioplasty?
- Will I feel the stent after the surgery?
- How long will I be in the hospital?
- What will be my limits be when I get home?
- What can I do to make my heart as healthy as possible?
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Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.