Coronary Stent Procedures Very Common

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The procedure that opened a clogged artery in former President Bill Clinton is called stenting. Clinton had two stents placed inside the artery as part of a procedure that is common for people with heart disease. As many as a million Americans a year have the stent procedure done.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

As weve just heard, the procedure Bill Clinton had is called stenting. Its pretty common. As many as a million Americans a year have it done.

NPRs Joanne Silberner covered former vice president Dick Cheneys health. Cheney also had a stent put in. And what, exactly, is a stent, and how does it end up in your heart?

JOANNE SILBERNER: Well, picture a tiny tube. Its very small. It's small enough to fit inside a blood vessel. Its steel mesh and its put at the end of a catheter, something - they can actually push this tube up and around. It goes up, usually through your groin. They feed it through blood vessels. It gets to your heart blood vessel, the one thats blocked. There is, actually, also a little, tiny balloon inside this little, tiny, steel mesh stent. The balloon is inflated. That pushes the stent up so that its holding that artery open, so that the blood flow can go through. And that prevents a heart attack from developing.

MONTAGNE: And why would the doctors have put a stent - well, actually, it turns out to be two stents - into Clintons heart?

SILBERNER: Well, his office says, you know, he was feeling some pain. They refer to it as discomfort. That means that one of those clogged arteries was actually starting to shut down a little bit, and that can cause you pain because the blood flow gets limited. And when you put it in, you hold that blood vessel open - and things go better.

MONTAGNE: But Clinton had that quadruple bypass back in 2004. So why would he need a stent after a bypass?

SILBERNER: Because he has an ongoing condition. Its called atherosclerosis. And his arteries tend to clog. A lot of people have this, around the country. There may be a million of these procedures done a year. This will be ongoing. Those blockages will keep on occurring. Youve got to figure out ways to open them up a little bit, and stents are actually a pretty good way of doing it.

MONTAGNE: So as we just heard in Roberts story, former President Clinton has changed his lifestyle. He eats better now, he exercises. What does that mean for his future?

SILBERNER: Well, he has an ongoing condition, atherosclerosis, clogging of the arteries. It will go on. He may have more stents. He is going to be on anticoagulant drugs because what happens with these little mesh devices, you know, when they are in the heart like that is, blood clots can form around them. So you need to be on anticoagulants after a procedure like this. But really, you know, as long as he gets regular medical care, which he is clearly doing, you know, things should go pretty well. Cardiologists have gotten very good at dealing with this as long as, you know, you go in, you get it looked at before they turn into bigger problems.

MONTAGNE: NPRs health policy correspondent Joanne Silberner.

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