How is a stent placed in the body?

Stents are tiny, metal mesh tubes that are placed in arteries to keep an artery from collapsing after the fatty deposits that were blocking the artery (called plaque) have been pushed aside to restore blood flow. In many cases, stents are threaded through the artery and implanted after angioplasty has been performed. Alternatively, a stent may be placed directly over the balloon and stent implantation takes place simultaneously as the blockage is cleared.

In either event, when the balloon inflates to open the blockage, the stent is pushed open against the inside wall of the artery, often at very high pressures. There, it retains the shape of a tube and acts as a scaffold for holding open the artery. 

An interventional cardiologist—a cardiologist with additional education and training in procedures such as angioplasty and stenting—threads a stent crimped on a balloon into the plaque that is blocking the artery. The interventional cardiologist then inflates the balloon, pushing the plaque to the outer edges of the artery. This embeds the stent into the wall of the artery so it cannot move and prevents the artery from collapsing. The interventional cardiologist then deflates the balloon, leaving behind the stent, which acts like a scaffold to hold the artery open at the site of the previous blockages.

Interventional radiologists are vascular experts. They use their skill and the help of state-of-the-art image-guidance equipment to direct a stent's path to a diseased blood vessel. Interventional radiologists insert a thin catheter into a blood vessel through a small nick in the skin. The catheter is threaded under X-ray guidance to the site of a blocked blood vessel. A stent, a small metal scaffold, is inserted to keep the blood vessel open. This interventional radiology technique is generally less traumatic for an individual then surgical implantation, because it involves smaller incisions, less pain and shorter recover time.

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