Updated May 23, 2020
Cardiac stents are small devices used to open narrow or blocked arteries. Coronary arteries, where stents are most commonly used, deliver oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle. Limited blood flow to the heart can put patients at risk for a heart attack, and cardiac stents can be used as both a response to this risk and a prevention method.
When used appropriately, cardiac stents can save lives and help patients recover from heart procedures. Unfortunately, when used unnecessarily or incorrectly, cardiac stents can cause severe damage.
Cardiac stents are expandable and can be made from various materials, including metal mesh, fabric, or silicone. Most stents are permanent and made out of metal mesh. Fabric stents, called stent grafts, are used for larger arteries. Stents used in the airways of lungs are often silicone.
Additionally, stents can be coated with medication. These stents are called drug-eluting stents, and the medication helps keep arteries open. Stents without medication are called bare-metal stents.
Stents are occasionally used to treat plaque buildup in arteries of the kidneys or limbs, but most cardiac stents are inserted into coronary arteries after a heart attack, during a coronary angioplasty, or to treat carotid artery disease (CAD).
Cardiac stents are most commonly used after heart attacks, when patients need immediate intervention to keep their arteries open and improve blood flow.
A coronary angioplasty, also known as a percutaneous coronary intervention, is a nonsurgical and minimally invasive procedure used to open clogged arteries and treat heart disease. The procedure involves temporarily inserting a balloon where an artery is clogged to help expand the artery, and it is often combined with the permanent placement of a cardiac stent.
CAD causes a buildup of cholesterol plaque (arteriosclerosis) in arteries that run up the neck and lead to the heart, leaving patients at a high risk for stroke. Stents are used as a treatment for CAD.
The goal of inserting a cardiac stent is to expand a narrow artery, and the procedure can usually occur under local anesthesia. There are a few steps to this process:
If all goes well, as the artery begins to heal, the patient’s tissue will merge with the stent, which helps to keep the artery open. However, during this procedure, complications such as heart valve damage and tears or punctures to the arteries can occur.
Benefits of cardiac stents are clear: These devices can restore blood flow in the arteries of patients and prevent further damage to their heart.
For patients with heart disease, cardiac stents can improve common symptoms, such as shortness of breath and chest pains. Patients who have a heart attack could survive thanks to a combination of stenting and angioplasty. And, in some cases, cardiac stents may work so well that a patient no longer requires coronary bypass surgery.
According to a Journal of the American Medical Association article, one in 50 patients who receive a cardiac stent will experience serious complications. Possible risks include the following:
Due to the possibility of blood clots or scar tissue forming inside a cardiac stent and restricting blood flow, unneeded stents can end up weakening the heart. In severe cases, these complications can lead to serious, permanent injuries or even death.
Several factors determine how many cardiac stents patients can have, but studies show that more stents aren’t always better. A 2011 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reviewed 144,000 nonemergency cardiac stents and found that only 50% were considered to be appropriate, leaving 38% as uncertain and 12% as inappropriate.
With the risks and complications that can follow cardiac stents, doctors should consider the best procedure for a patient instead of inserting unnecessary stents.
If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of an unnecessary or improperly inserted cardiac stent, contact the attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. An experienced Indianapolis medical malpractice lawyer at WKW can help you get the compensation you deserve. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.
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