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Common Stent Procedure Saves Lives

February 12, 2010, 5:09 PM by Matthew Holsen

It's a common procedure: having a stent inserted to prevent a blockage. Even people who've already had bypass surgery, like former President Bill Clinton, may need them.

More than a million procedures are done in the U.S. each year but there is no way of knowing how long a stent will last. Doctors say it all depends on your disease and risk factors, as well as your diet and lifestyle.

It's not uncommon for patients who have had heart bypass surgery to need a stent placed in a blocked artery five to seven years later. That's what happened to former President Bill Clinton

"One of the bypass grafts that was placed at the time of his surgery had become narrowed and was no longer providing sufficient blood to that region of the heart," Dr. Robert Michler with the Montefiore Einstein Heart Center said.

Those grafts are actually pieces of arteries and veins taken from other parts of the patient's body. But in time, those replacement parts can get clogged. New blockages can also develop in other areas.

One solution is to place a mesh tube called a stent in the artery after it's unblocked. This keeps it open and keeps blood flowing.

"Stents could potentially last for years, possibly decades. However, we do know that there is a restenosis or renarrowing rate to stents. Those rates are anywhere from 10 to 30 percent at one year," Michler said. 

Stents are less invasive then bypass surgery, although doctors say they are not a final solution

"Bypass treatment is the only treatment shown to prolong survival. Stents only relieve symptoms," Michler said.

To live longer, patients with heart disease need to be closely monitored. They also need to keep their risk factors like high cholesterol and high blood pressure in check.

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