During an angioplasty, your vascular surgeon inflates a small balloon inside a narrowed blood vessel. The balloon helps to widen your blood vessel and improve blood flow. After widening the vessel with angioplasty, your vascular surgeon sometimes inserts a stent depending upon the circumstances. Stents are tiny metal mesh tubes that support your artery walls to keep your vessels wide open.
An endovascular stent graft is a tube composed of fabric supported by a metal mesh called a stent. It can be used for a variety of conditions involving the blood vessels, but most commonly is used to reinforce a weak spot in an artery called an aneurysm. Over time, blood pressure and other factors can cause this weak area to bulge like a balloon and it can eventually enlarge and rupture. The stent graft is designed to seal tightly with your artery above and below the aneurysm. The graft is stronger than the weakened artery and it allows your blood to pass through it without pushing on the bulge. Physicians typically use endovascular stent grafting to treat abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAAs), but they also use it to treat thoracic aortic aneurysms (TAAs) and less commonly, aneurysms in other locations.
An angiogram is an imaging test that uses x-rays to view your body's blood vessels. Physicians often use this test to study narrow, blocked, enlarged, or malformed arteries or veins in many parts of your body, including your brain, heart, abdomen, and legs. When the arteries are studied, the test is also called an arteriogram. If the veins are studied, it is called a venogram.
Surgical bypass treats your narrowed arteries by directly creating a detour, or bypass, around a section of the artery that is blocked. Your arteries are normally smooth and unobstructed on the inside but they can become blocked through a process called atherosclerosis, which means hardening of the arteries. As you age, a sticky substance called plaque can build up in the walls of your arteries. Cholesterol, calcium, and fibrous tissue make up the plaque. As more plaque builds up, your arteries can narrow and stiffen. Eventually, as the process progresses, your blood vessels can no longer supply the oxygen demands of your organs or muscles, and symptoms may develop.
Thoracic aneurysms affect approximately 15,000 people in the United States each year. Some patients may have more than one TAA or may also have an aneurysm in the abdominal aorta. Only about 20 to 30 percent of patients who get to the hospital with a ruptured TAA survive. For this reason, it is crucial to treat large aneurysms early, in order to prevent their rupture.