Do I need a stent if I have a life-threatening arterial blockage?

If you have a life-threatening blockage in your artery, you will need angioplasty and a stent to stop damage to your heart muscle and restore blood flow to your heart, potentially saving your life. In some cases, a patient with multiple blockages or other factors may require emergency bypass surgery rather than a stent.

Heart attacks are caused by blockages in the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart. When a heart attack strikes, blocked blood flow to the heart starves your heart muscle of oxygen. When you arrive at the hospital with a life-threatening blockage, healthcare professionals will work to restore blood flow to the heart as quickly as possible through angioplasty and stenting.

You will be taken to the hospital's catheterization lab—a special operating room equipped to enable doctors to guide a catheter, or tiny tube, through the arteries to the point in the arteries at which treatment will be performed. Your interventional cardiologist will open an angioplasty balloon on the tip of the catheter. When the balloon opens, it pushes aside the plaque—a fatty substance made of cholesterol and other materials—that is causing the blockage and restores blood flow in the artery. A stent is then placed in the artery like a small metal scaffold to prop the artery open. The catheter is removed from your body, leaving only the stent. This minimally invasive procedure reopens a blocked artery, stopping a heart attack, possibly saving your life and helping to save your heart muscle from irreversible damage.

Research clearly shows that stents save lives in patients who have life-threatening blockages, the root cause of a heart attack. Angioplasty and stenting have been definitively shown to be the therapy of choice for a heart attack. Do not delay care. In a heart attack, every second counts.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.