Coronary angioplasty is a common procedure used to open clogged heart arteries.
During the angioplasty procedure a small balloon is inserted into the arteries and then blown up pressing against a narrowed section of the artery wall. Stent placement is often during angioplasty to reduce the risk of the artery narrowing again.
Angioplasty with stent placement can be used to treat some symptoms such as shortness of breath or chest pains caused by blocked or narrowed heart arteries but may not be the right treatment for everyone.
A stent is a small wire coil used to prop open the artery after the balloon has opened or unblocked the fatty buildup.
Atherosclerosis is a disease caused by the buildup of fatty deposits within the arteries. Over time this can cause a blockage or narrowing in the walls of the vessels that hinder the blood flow to the heart.
In the case of sudden (acute) chest pain or a heart attack, angioplasty can quickly open a blocked artery and prevent damage to the heart. However, most angioplasty treatments with heart stent placements are done to treat symptoms such as shortness of breath or chest pain brought on during exercise (stable angina) that general improves with rest.
Is angioplasty with stent placement right for you? Only you and your doctor can decide the best treatment for your symptoms. In the case of severe heart pains most like the answer is yes. Getting the artery open as quickly as possible could prevent a heart attack or lessen damage to the heart from lack of blood.
However, it is important to realize that stent placement is not a cure for atherosclerosis or heart disease. Lifestyle changes and medication for high blood pressure and high cholesterol is still needed.
Risks During or After Angioplasty and Stent Placement
Because angioplasty and stent placements are both invasive procedures, you need to be aware of potential risks. Common risks include:
Reoccurrence of narrowing or blocking – with angioplasty alone there is a 30-40 percent chance of the artery narrowing or closing again. Stent placement decreases this risk to less than 20 percent in most cases but it can still occur.
Clots – Though less common, clots can form during the procedures and cause strokes or heart attacks. It is possible for clots to form weeks or months after the procedures. For this reason medications such as aspirin or Plavix are needed to decrease the risk of clot formation. Talk with your doctor and take medications exactly as instructed and do not discontinue medications unless told to do so by your doctor.
Bleeding – Bleeding may occur at the site the catheters used for the angioplasty are inserted. Usually it is minor and results in some bruising but serious bleeding may require surgery of blood transfusions.
Rare Risks -Other risks include heart attack, damage to artery walls requiring emergency bypass surgery, kidney problems, stroke, or abnormal heart rhythms including heart attack.
Question to Discuss with Your Doctor
Before deciding if angioplasty with stent placement is right for you have all the information needed to make an informed decision. The following are some questions to ask before agreeing to angioplasty and stent replacement.
Is the blockage life threatening?
Do tests confirm the blockage is significant? A stress-can determine if your blockage is significant. Less than half of the individuals having stent replacement have a stress-test done first.
What will happen if I don’t get a stent?
Will medication alone work just as well?
Medication and lifestyle changes are needed in addition to angioplasty and stent placement to treat atherosclerosis even after angioplasty and stent placements are done. Working with your doctor to combine medications and lifestyle changes may mean you can avoid or at least prolong the need for more invasive treatments and the risks associated with them.
Coronary Angioplasty and Stents, (n.d.) Mayo Clinic-online. Retrieved at http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/angioplasty/MY00352/DSECTION=risks
Heart Stent Dangers, Doctor Oz Show, (Nov. 8, 2010), Retrieved online at http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/heart-procedures-stents-uncovered-pt-2