Doctor Decoded: What Are Stents?

What does it mean when your doctor wants to “place a stent”?

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Your doctor says they want to place a stent to help your heart health. You’ve likely heard the word before—but what is it?

Stents are small, mesh tubes that doctors use to hold various structures open in the body. Imagine fabric tunnels for dogs and cats to run through: They contain a wire coil that props the tunnel open. Without that, the fabric would collapse on the ground. Stents are like those metal coils propping open passages in the body.

Most commonly, stents hold open arteries or veins, especially ones that are blocked or narrowed due to atherosclerosis. In this case, stents help ensure good blood flow, which can help to prevent heart attacks or other cardiovascular problems.

Placing a stent may be a planned procedure, or it may be an emergency intervention. Either way, it is a minimally invasive procedure.

Uses of Stents Beyond the Heart

Blood vessels and your heart aren’t the only thing that can benefit from stents. Your doctor may also use a stent in the following areas:

  • Arteries of the neck to prevent stroke
  • Airways of the lungs to help with breathing
  • The ureter (which carries urine from the kidney to the bladder) to open up a blockage
  • A bile duct (which moves bile from the liver to the gallbladder) to open up a blockage

What You Should Know

Stents can help prevent heart attacks and save lives, but they won’t “cure” the underlying problem. For this reason, your doctor may also recommend lifestyle changes after you’ve received your stent. For example, if you needed to open up a blocked artery, your doctor may suggest reducing your intake of saturated fat and increasing exercise, which can help with heart disease and reduce your risk of a heart attack. Lifestyle changes, along with a stent, can help keep your arteries open and healthy.

Learn more about lifestyle changes for a healthy heart here.