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Stents are tubes that are used to open up any constriction or blockage in the natural passages within the body. It can either be permanent or used as a temporarily to access a natural opening during a surgery.

Stent: Overview

A stent is a wire mesh made of stainless steel. It is shaped like a tube that helps keep an artery open and prevents it from closing. This tube becomes a part of the natural artery after the placement. In case of large arteries, stents are made of fabric instead of stainless steel.

A stent is usually placed in the coronary artery to remove the obstruction in blood flow to the heart. Plaque or fatty deposits usually buildup in the artery causing it to become narrow. This causes reduction in blood flow, leading to chest pain, fatigue, etc. If the blood flow is completely obstructed, it could lead to a heart attack. In order to prevent heart attacks, or improve the blood flow to the heart, stents are placed.

The procedure through which stents are placed is called as percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), also called as coronary angioplasty.

Types of Stents

Coronary angiography is one of the most common procedure where stents are placed. There are other types of stents placed to open up different arteries as well as tubes within the body. These include:

Urethral Stents

The urethral stents are used to keep the ureter open in case of obstruction due to kidney stones.

Prostatic stents

These stents are used in case of men who find it difficult to urinate due to enlarged prostate. The stent helps open up the obstruction by the enlarged prostate that blocks the ureter tube and allows urine to flow.

Esophageal stent

In case of a blockage in the esophagus that prevents one from swallowing soft foods and liquids, a stent is placed. This stent is made of silicone or plastic and used in cases of esophageal cancer.

Carotid arteries stent

Stents placed in carotid artery helps increase the oxygenated blood flow towards the brain. Plaque buildup limits the blood flow to the brain, increasing the chances of a stroke. Stents placed in the carotid arteries help widen them and decreases the chances of a stroke.

Stent grafts

The aorta carries blood to the body and runs down the abdomen. The aorta can weaken over time and develop aneurysms. This aneurysm can burst in the abdomen aorta and lead to internal bleeding. In order to prevent internal bleeding, fabric stent grafts are placed in the abdominal aorta to make a firmer lining that does not burst.

There are different types of stents, based on their placement within the body. This includes pancreatic stents, kidney stent, colonic stent, duodenal stent, etc.

How Are Stents Placed?

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When the arteries become narrow or blocked, the doctor suggests placement of stents. There are many procedures that help in placing stents depending on the location. Some of the common procedures for placement of stents and opening of arteries include:

  • Angioplasty and stent placement in case of coronary heart diseases
  • Angioplasty and stent placement in case of peripheral artery diseases
  • Fabric mesh placement in case of aortic aneurysm repair
  • Renal artery stenosis
  • Placing stents in the bile ducts to allow the flow of bile through the blocked ducts through a biliary stricture
  • Placement of stents in the throat to prevent thoracic aneurysms
  • Opening a blocked or for supporting a damaged ureter with the help of percutaneous urinary procedures

Stents are placed under local anesthesia that make you drowsy, but you are aware of the surroundings. A thin, long, flexible tube will be inserted through the artery in the groin, arm or leg. The doctor will inject a special dye that helps make the arteries visible on the monitor. The catheter or the thin tube will be pushed gently through the arteries, till it reaches the site of blockage. A balloon catheter will be inserted and then the stent. The balloon will be inflated, so that the stent expands and is stretched wide open against the artery wall. This will help open up the blockage and help the blood, bile, urine, etc. flow through the artery. The balloon will be deflated and removed. The catheter too will be pulled out, leaving the stent in place within the artery.

What Happens After the Stents Are Placed?

The site of insertion will be bandaged and a small sandbag or weight will be placed over it. This will apply pressure and prevent the artery from bleeding. The patients blood pressure and heart rate will be constantly monitored in the recovery room. One needs complete bed rest for about 12 hours. After the doctor finds everything is normal and as planned, one will be discharged from the hospital.

One may have to take certain medications like blood-thinners for life, after a stent placement. In most cases, the stents open up the arteries well enough to prevent any blockage. Thus, the patient remains symptom-free for a long time. In a few cases, one may observe complications. Speak to your doctor in detail regarding the benefits and risks involved with stent placement.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: March 24, 2015