• Understanding the Benefits & Risks of Angioplasty and Stenting

    Angioplasty and stenting offers life-enhancing - sometimes life-saving - treatment for certain conditions. A blocked artery can cause serious health problems, especially if it prevent one of the body’s most critical organs—for example, the heart, brain or kidneys—from getting the oxygen needed to keep you alive and functioning.

    Angioplasty and stenting has been effective in treating heart attack, stroke and gangrene. For patients suffering a heart attack or stroke, the procedure can save lives. Angioplasty and stenting can also improve the quality of your life by reducing angina and other symptoms of heart disease. But, like any medical procedure, angioplasty and stenting has risks, so it’s important that you take the time to weigh the benefits and risks to decide if they are the right treatment for you.

    Heart attacks and strokes are medical emergencies that should be treated as promptly as possible to prevent the death of heart muscle or brain tissue, which can lead to heart failure or brain damage, or even death. A patient who is having a heart attack or stroke has very little time to explore treatment options, but other conditions may not be as clear-cut. In those instances, you may want to review the benefits and risks listed below and take time to discuss them with your doctor and family.

    Benefits of Angioplasty & Stenting

    Treating blocked arteries with angioplasty and stenting:

    • can save your life and reduce heart muscle damage during a heart attack by restoring blood flow to the heart
    • may immediately relieve or at least reduce symptoms, such as chest pain, shortness of breath and fatigue, making you feel better and able to do more each day
    • can reduce the risk of stroke
    • can improve functioning of the kidneys
    • can restore blood flow to the legs to prevent gangrene and eliminate the need for amputation

    Some patients with blockage in their heart arteries clearly benefit more from open-heart surgery to restore blood flow to the heart. These patients have extensive blockage in all three major arteries or in an artery called the “left main.” In comparison to open-heart surgery, angioplasty and stenting is less invasive than surgery because the clogged or blocked artery is accessed from a tiny incision in the upper leg or the wrist. Angioplasty and stenting may allow you to recover more quickly than you would from surgery, which can also mean less time in the hospital and returning to your regular activities more quickly.

    Risks of Angioplasty & Stenting

    Talk with your doctor about the risks of angioplasty and stenting. Many risks can be managed. For example, your physician may implant a drug-eluting stent rather than a bare metal stent to help prevent scar tissue from forming that could block the artery again. And you can greatly reduce the risk of blood clots by taking medication exactly as prescribed by your doctors. Your level of risk also depends on your personal circumstances, but it can include –

    • an artery collapsing or closing again, especially when stenting is not an option
    • bleeding or damage to the blood vessel where the catheter is inserted or in the inner lining of the artery
    • an allergic reaction to the dye or to the stent
    • the procedure may need to be stopped and coronary bypass surgery (CABG) performed if the blockages are too numerous and severe to treat adequately with angioplasty and stenting
    • scar tissue can grow within a stent (restenosis), requiring a repeat procedure
    • a blood clot can form inside the stent (stent thrombosis), which may require immediate medical treatment
    • heart attack, stroke or death—the more arteries involved, the greater the risk
    • side effects from medication

    Taking Care of Your Stent Requires Taking Your Medications

    The greatest risks from a stent occur when patients do not take medications as prescribed. If you have a bare metal stent, then you will have to take medications for at least one month to prevent blood clots from forming in the stent. For drug-eluting stents, medication will be required for at least a year. With either type of stent you should take aspirin for the rest of your life.

    Click here to learn more about medications that your doctor may prescribe if you have a stent, or click here for tips on remembering to take your medications.