Chest pains, shortness of breath and other bodily discomforts such as nausea or breaking out in a cold sweat may already be signs of a heart attack. A patient who comes to the hospital experiencing chest pains and whose ECG readings show that he is indeed having a heart attack should be taken to the cardiac cath lab immediately where a cardiologist can perform emergency stenting. This can save a lot of damage to the heart.
Coronary artery stenting is an interventional procedure used to open up blocked arteries to boost blood flow to the heart. It further minimizes chest pain and lessens the risk of a massive heart attack and death.
This method involves a stent which is a tiny metal tube with slots that is used to prop up or support a collapsed or clogged coronary artery. Using a balloon catheter, the stent is placed over a guide wire into the artery via a small hole made in the patient’s arm or groin. Once in the intended site, the cardiologist fills the balloon with air so that the stent expands to the size of the artery to hold it open. Eventually, the balloon is deflated and taken out but the stent is left inside the patient’s body to stay in place.
Stenting is different from angioplasty in the sense that in the latter, the technique used is to simply open up the collapsed area with the help of a catheter and an inflated balloon at its tip. When the previously blocked spot is expanded, the balloon is removed, leaving nothing inside. In some cases, unfortunately, some areas in the blood vessels that have been expanded with balloon inflation can close up again. So, a stent is needed to decrease the possibility of closing. This course of action is called restenosis.
Insertion of a heart stent is less invasive compared to a bypass operation, which is a surgical procedure. The former is not as traumatic because it involves minimal invasion. In stenting, the doctor doesn’t cut the patient’s chest open and instead just punctures a hole in the artery. Moreover, since the cardiologist only uses local anesthesia, the patient is awake throughout the stenting procedure and experiences less pain after.
It is important to note though that not all heart patients can be candidates for stenting. Factors such as the location, extent and quality of the blockage as well as the size of the artery will establish if stenting can be done. There are patients, particularly those with diabetes, who are also recommended to undergo a bypass operation instead of stenting.
New developments in the field of stenting include drug-eluting stents, an improvement from the original metal stents used in the beginning. Although controversies still abound about the use of drug-coated stents, there are already a large number of patients who have benefited from these. They were the ones who were having acute heart attacks and were given this immediate intervention. As a result, stenting prevented bigger damages that could have been fatal.