What are stents? Cardiologist explains Bernie Sanders’ procedure

Sen. Bernie Sanders is off the campaign trail indefinitely after two stents were inserted into what had been a blocked artery.

The Vermont Democrat and presidential candidate canceled events and appearances Wednesday “until further notice” following the procedure in a Las Vegas hospital.

So, what do stents do? Simply put, they help ensure that arteries keep blood flowing, said Dr. Warren Levy, a cardiologist with Virginia Heart.

“Stents have really been a tremendous breakthrough, which have allowed us to treat these kinds of problems relatively simply to alleviate blockages and arteries that could lead to heart attacks,” he said.

In Sanders’ case, Levy said, he got medical attention once he experienced angina, or chest discomfort.

“That is an indication that part of the heart’s not getting an adequate blood supply,” Levy said.

Inserting the stent involves a small incision around the groin or wrist, then threading it through blood vessels with a balloon-type catheter. Once in place, the stent restores blood flow and, ideally, prevents heart damage.

It’s a good news story, Levy said, because the problem was found before it caused any damage. But the senator and others with stents don’t get to “go home and forget about it,” Levy said. Ensuring a healthy heart means living a heart-healthy lifestyle.

“There’s a significant risk factor modification that needs to follow through in terms of diet and exercise and all those good things,” he said.

When could the senator return to the campaign trail? Patients can usually be “back to full speed after just one day,” said Levy, but that’s not a hard and fast rule. And older patients like Sanders, who is 78, could be at a higher risk of developing blockages.

That said, getting it diagnosed and addressed can mean an eventual return to normal — and an awareness moving forward.

“You become aware that this is an issue, you take care of it, you take the appropriate medications, you reduce your risk of any further events, and it doesn’t mean that he would need to be limited in any way going forward,” Levy said.

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