The Benefits and Risks of an Angioplasty Procedure
The coronary arteries are responsible for transferring oxygenated blood to the heart. Over time, these arteries can narrow due to a build-up of abnormal material, such as plaque, or become blocked by blood clots. This issue is commonly known as coronary heart disease and if left untreated, can reduce blood flow to the heart, damaging a patient’s heart muscle, potentially permanently.
This acute cardiac condition is known as a heart attack or the medical term is myocardial infarction. Through a minimally invasive procedure, cardiologists can insert a small device known as a stent to improve blood flow to the heart.
The medical treatment involved with cardiac stents goes by many names such as angioplasty, stenting, or coronary catheterisation. No matter what a cardiologist calls it, this procedure can save the life of a patient experiencing coronary artery disease and prevent future heart damage from occurring.
What are Stents?
Cardiac Stents are flexible metal tubes used to expand arteries supplying blood to heart muscle that have narrowed or been blocked by cholesterol plaque or blood clots. These stents can come in various sizes (widths and lengths) and are specifically designed to restore blood flow to the heart.
Over time, the lining of the artery wall grows around the stent, and the stent becomes part of the arterial wall. Angioplasty stents have become a standard procedure for those experiencing a heart attack and those whose coronary arteries appear narrow due to atherosclerosis.
The Benefits of Cardiac Stents
Due to the technological innovation of heart stents, 47,000 lives are saved every year in Australia (HCF)1. For people experiencing a myocardial infarction (heart attack), inserting a stent can instantly restore oxygenated blood to the heart muscle and ultimately, spare further muscular tissue damage.
Patients with more than one coronary artery obstruction may not be a candidate for a cardiac stenting procedure and may instead be referred to a cardiac surgeon for an open-heart operation, known as Coronary Arterial Bypass Graft (CABG). An angioplasty procedure used to insert cardiac stents can offer several benefits and is less invasive than open-heart surgery. These benefits include:
- Faster recovery time
- Fewer complications
- Less postoperative pain
- Lower infection rates
- No general anesthesia risks
- May relieve (or at least reduce) symptoms of chest pain, shortness of breath, and fatigue
Patients must remember that an angioplasty procedure is a treatment for cardiovascular heart disease and not a cure for this condition. After having a stent inserted, patients may be referred to a cardiac rehabilitation program that can help with lifestyle changes to improve their heart strength. Patients may also be prescribed medication aimed at reducing the blockage of these stents in the short and long term. A local GP may be able to assist a patient to find a Cardiac rehabilitation program near them or identify lifestyle modification activities that may reduce their risk.
Heart Stent Risks
While heart stents and their associated insertion procedures have proven helpful to those suffering from conditions relating to narrowed arteries, there are risks related to these procedures.
The most common risks include:
- Blood clots at the stent site
- Blood vessel damage
- Bleeding or hematoma at the catheter site
- Allergic reaction to imaging dyes
- Arrhythmias (irregular heart rhythm) during or after the procedure
- Extra tissue growth at the stent site
A Lifesaving Procedure:
Patients who undergo an open-heart operation for CABG may have other significant health issues or more extensive coronary arterial heart disease. However, open-heart surgery is widely performed for patients in Australasia, with many of the world’s best cardiac surgeons in this region.
Angioplasty stents offer an effective treatment for advanced coronary artery disease. The Cardiology team will decide which treatment approach is best suited to your individual needs.
*Remember: Angioplasty is a treatment; it is not a cure for heart disease.
Written by Bella Schwarzenecker
and edited by Shane Bassett, Clinical Content Director, Connect The Docs, RN/BN/CCRN
All information contained in this article has been derived from Hope For Hearts, cardiac resource centre.
To find a General Practitioner (GP) or a Cardiologist near you, visit www.hopeforhearts.com.au/specialists