Coronary Stents

A stent is a small metal coil or mesh tube that is placed in a narrowed artery to hold it open, which helps improve blood flow to your heart. The stent also helps keep the artery from re-narrowing (restenosis). Some stents slowly release medicine over a period of time. This reduces the amount of scar tissue that forms inside the artery, helping to prevent restenosis. A heart specialist called an interventional cardiologist does coronary angioplasty and stenting. He or she has specialized training in using the equipment  and in doing the procedure as safely as possible.

Cross section of artery showing balloon catheter placing stent. Cross section of artery showing blood flow through stent.

 During the procedure

  • A member of your healthcare team will numb the skin at the insertion site (usually the groin, but sometimes the wrist) with a local anesthetic. He or she will make a needle puncture to insert the catheter.

  • Your doctor will insert a guide wire through the catheter (a thin, flexible tube) and move it to the narrow spot in your heart's artery. Your doctor tracks its movement on an angiogram, a special kind of X-ray.

  • Your doctor will then insert a balloon-tipped catheter through the guide catheter and thread it over the guide wire. He or she will position it at the narrow part of the artery.

  • Your doctor will deliver a stent mounted on a balloon-tipped catheter to the blockage in your artery.

  • He or she will inflate the balloon to expand the stent.

  • The expanded stent further compresses the plaque against the arterial wall, increasing the blood flow to the heart muscle.

After the procedure

  • Your doctor will give you medicine to prevent blood clots from forming on the new stent. You will continue to take this medicine until the stent and artery have healed. Your healthcare team will tell you how long you should take this. Your doctor will give you a prescription before you go home.

  • Your healthcare team will tell you how long to lie down and keep the insertion site still. The amount of time may depend on whether a closure device such as a stitch or collagen plug was used to close the opening made in your artery. The time you must be still may be shorter if one of these devices was used. The amount of time will also depend on if there is any bleeding at the artery site.

  • If the insertion site was in your groin, you may need to lie down with your leg still for several hours.

  • A nurse will check your blood pressure and the insertion site.

  • You may be asked to drink fluid to help flush the contrast liquid out of your system.

  • You may stay for several hours overnight in the hospital. Have someone drive you home from the hospital.

  • It’s normal to find a small bruise or lump at the insertion site. This should disappear within a few weeks.

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of the following:

  • Angina (a feeling of pain, pressure, aching, tingling, or burning in the chest, back, neck, throat, jaw, arms, or shoulders)

  • Increasing pain, swelling, redness, bleeding, or drainage at the insertion site

  • Severe pain, coldness, or a bluish color in the leg or arm that held the catheter

  • Shortness of breath

  • Difficulty urinating or blood in your urine

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider