Heart Stents 101

Ruth-Bader-GinsburgStents aren’t just for 81-year-old Supreme Court justices like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who recently underwent a heart procedure to fix a blockage in her right coronary artery.

The senior member of the country’s highest court was exercising when she experienced discomfort – a timely reminder for people of all ages to pay attention to your body’s signals during exertion.

Dr. Ish Singla, medical director of cardiology at Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital, describes a stent as a metal tube with medications on top of it that helps resolve a blockage in the heart’s arteries.

“When there is a blockage, we open up the blockage with a balloon, and then we put in the metal tube so that it doesn’t collapse,” he said. “The value of a stent procedure is that it keeps blood moving to the heart tissue and prevents the heart muscle from dying.”

Don’t Wait—Call 911

That is why calling 911 at the first sign of symptoms is so critical. There is a short 90-minute window for a cardiac catheter lab team to reopen a blockage and prevent permanent damage to the heart artery.

Know the signs to watch for to be sure you or your loved one gets the proper care needed when every minute counts:

  • Discomfort or pressure in the center of the chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feelings of nausea or lightheadedness
  • Pain in one or both arms

For the procedure, a physician will either enter through the wrist or groin with a catheter to the heart. Ten years ago, most heart catheterization procedures included an entry through the groin, which added to recovery time.

“More and more of the procedures go through the wrist now,” Dr. Singla said. “The recovery time is two hours before you can go home, as opposed to the groin, which can take four to six hours before you can even move.”