Last week, former President George W. Bush underwent a coronary artery stent placement. On Monday, Dr. Alicia Arnold joined us to tell us more about treatments for blocked arteries.
Meghan Kulig: First, give us some background information on our coronary arteries.
Dr. Arnold: Our hearts are supplied by blood vessels that branch off from the aorta, called coronary arteries. There is a left main coronary artery and a right coronary artery. Both of these branch into smaller vessels to supply blood to the different areas of the heart. Problems can occur when they become blocked.
Meghan Kulig: What factors cause them to be blocked?
Dr. Arnold: Coronary arteries can become narrowed or blocked by plaque, which is buildup of cholesterol and fatty deposits. Some factors that can increase your risk of coronary artery disease include smoking, eating a diet high in fat and cholesterol, having high blood pressure, high cholesterol or high triglycerides, having uncontrolled diabetes, being physically inactive, or being overweight or obese.
Meghan Kulig: What are some treatment options?
Dr. Arnold: Depending on how serious the clinical scenario is, lifestyle modifications and medications may be tried initially. Coronary artery bypass grafts, balloon angioplasty, where a tiny balloon is used to help open the vessels, and coronary artery stents may be options also. Some stents, called drug eluting stents, slowly release medications to help keep the vessels open.
Meghan Kulig: How do they place stents?
Dr. Arnold: A physician makes a small cut in your groin area or in your arm and then places a thin soft tube called a catheter inside. The physician then guides it through the blood vessel to the coronary arteries in the heart. A tiny balloon may be used to help expand the area of narrowing. Often, a stent, which a tiny, expandable tube, is placed to keep the narrowed area of the artery open to maintain blood flow.
Meghan Kulig: How successful are stents?
Dr. Arnold: These procedures increase blood supply to your heart, but they do not cure coronary artery disease. The disease can recur in the same location or progress in other arteries. You will still need to decrease your risk factors by making lifestyle changes, and taking medications as prescribed. Your doctor can talk with you about what combination of lifestyle changes, medications, or interventions may be best for your particular case.