If you have undergone coronary angioplasty, you may have benefited from one of medicine’s small revolutions: coronary stents, the half-inch pieces of mesh tubing that help prop blood vessels open. Coronary stents were approved about five years ago and today these “Slinky-like” devices are used in over half of nonsurgical cardiology procedures for the treatment of blocked arteries.
Coronary stents are primarily used in conjunction with balloon angioplasty. In angioplasty, a catheter is inserted with a tiny balloon attached to its tip. The balloon is inflated to stretch open the artery, but up to half the time the artery will collapse and the blockage will recur. Stents can be inserted during the procedure to prevent this sudden closure of the vessel.
Stents in the coronary arteries have been shown to:
- Reduce the risk of abrupt vessel closure (soon after the procedure) almost 50%.
- Reduce the rate of vessel re-narrowing in the months after angioplasty.
- Reduce the incidence of subsequent heart attacks
- Prevent the need for future coronary bypass surgery months or years later
But stents are not foolproof. Some patients may have a repeat blockage. New stent developments, and the use of powerful drugs along with the stents, should make the success rate even greater.
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