February 01, 2012

Blood vessel stents

Improving blood flow


When it comes to treating a clogged or narrowed artery that leads to the heart, you may be aware of the tiny, expandable mesh tubes — or stents — that help prop open the narrowed artery. Less well-known is that stents can be used to hold open arteries in other areas of the body, as well.

In certain situations, stents are used to prop open arteries in the neck (carotid arteries) that supply blood to the brain. They are also used to open narrowed or clogged iliac arteries in the legs of people with peripheral artery disease (PAD), or to keep open arteries leading to the kidneys.

In general, vascular stenting provides an important option for improving blood flow. It may be considered when more-conservative drug therapies aren't adequate — and also as an alternative to surgery.

The common element

The most common disease treated by vascular stenting is atherosclerosis. This is when cholesterol-containing fatty deposits build up over time inside artery walls. This accumulation narrows, hardens and roughens the inside surface of the arteries.

When arteries that supply the heart with blood (coronary arteries) narrow enough, blood flow to part of the heart is reduced. The result may be chest pain or pressure, especially when you exert yourself or are under stress. If a heart artery becomes totally clogged, a heart attack can result.

With atherosclerosis in the main (carotid) artery leading to the brain, one of the biggest concerns is slow or turbulent blood flow over the fatty deposits....