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Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common form of heart disease. The condition is characterized as a narrowing of the major blood vessels, which transport blood to the heart muscle. When CAD interrupts your heart’s blood flow, treatments are often needed to restore it. These treatments can include lifestyle changes, medicines, and surgery.

Inserting coronary stents is a common treatment to open narrow arteries. A coronary stent is a mechanical tube. It is inserted into an artery to hold it open and restore proper blood flow to the heart.

What Are Common Signs and Symptoms of CAD?

An artery is usually narrowed because of an accumulation of plaque. This plaque buildup can happen over the course of several years. It often goes unnoticed until a serious medical event such as a heart attack occurs.

Common symptoms of CAD include:

  • Chest pain, which may feel like a pressure or squeezing pain in your chest.
  • Pain or pressure in your shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back.
  • Shortness of breath.

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What Are Common Risk Factors for CAD?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, various factors can increase your risk of developing CAD, including:

  • Age
  • Diabetes
  • Family history of heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Stress

How Do Coronary Stents Work?

Before inserting a coronary stent into a clogged artery, doctors first identify where the blockage is located using cardiac catheterization. The procedure involves placing catheters in an artery in the wrist or in the leg to inject dye into the coronary artery. The dye allows doctors to then use x-rays to locate the narrowing or blockage.

Depending on the severity of the narrowing or blockage, doctors may perform a coronary angioplasty and insert a coronary stent to open the artery.

“Let’s say there’s an 80% or 90% blockage. That’s when we insert the stent to open the artery,” explains Krishnamurty V. Tummalapalli, MD, interventional cardiologist at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute.

During a coronary stent procedure, a small stent is mounted on a balloon and placed at the site of the blockage. Then the balloon is inflated to position the stent. The balloon is removed, leaving the stent permanently in place to keep the coronary artery open.

What Are the Advantages of Coronary Stents?

Coronary stents were first approved for use in the early 1990s. Prior to the widespread use of stenting, the coronary angioplasty procedure was used to open clogged arteries. Without a permanent stent to hold arteries open, the chance of re-blockage was more than 30%.

Dr. Tummalapalli inserted the first coronary stent in Pittsburgh in 1991. He said the main advantage to using coronary stents is they reduce the chance of re-blockage to single digits.

Coronary stenting is also a minimally invasive alternative to open heart surgery and allows patients to have shorter hospital stays and faster recoveries. Overall, there are fewer risks associated with coronary stenting compared to coronary bypass surgery in properly selected patients.

About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine.