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Lifestyle Changes After Stents

Heart stent

In our series, "Vital Signs,"  living with artificial devices like stents, valves and grafts intended to improve blood flow to the heart. Doctors in the U.S. insert the devices in about a million procedures each year. But after that, the work falls to the patient.

Dr. Jeffrey Schussler, an interventional cardiologist with Baylor Heart & Vascular Hospital in Dallas, talked about lifestyle changes after stents.

Highlights from Dr. Schussler’s interview:

What is a stent? “If you have a blockage, it’s a very small metal tube. Almost looks like a steel spring. We can open up the blockage by placing that stent or metal tube in, and it acts like a scaffold to let the blood flow through the artery easily.

The most important things to do after getting a stent - 

Avoid smoking and taking your medications: “It’s (stent) obviously an artificial device and the body tends to want to reject it. So we give aspirin and a medicine called clopidogrel that helps keep the stent once it’s put in from clotting off. And the medications for cholesterol and blood pressure are really there to help the process from creating another blockage.  Tobacco is really irritating to the linings of all your arteries and so, for many people, that is the instigator as to why they have blockages that occur.”

Maintaining a healthy weight: “One of the biggest problems we have beside tobacco is obesity and diabetes, and they go hand in hand. Even losing some weight can always help. It relates to your blood pressure, it relates to your sugars and how well they are controlled. So there’s a lot of good benefits to exercising and trying to get toward a normal weight.”

Diet: "The specifics are less important than you might think. Eating a reasonable diet is the right answer, and eating fewer calories. Eating fruits and vegetables is a lot better than eating processed foods, but a lot of that has to do with how dense the calories are. There’s a lot of calories in a Twinkie for the size of the portion. There’s fewer calories in a heap of vegetables for the size of the portion."

Managing stress: “I think it’s how you cope with stress that’s most important. For some people, if they’re stressed and they rely on tobacco, that’s not good. If they rely on a lot of alcohol, that’s not good. If they binge eat, that’s not good. If we could get more people to exercise in response to bad things, that would be beneficial."

For more information:

Cardiac Procedures and Surgeries 

What To Expect After a Stent Procedure

Baylor Heart and Vascular Hospital: Angioplasty/Stenting 

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.