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A brain stent is a device that opens a clogged or blocked artery in the brain to promote the circulation of blood. The principle behind the device is the prevention of strokes by ensuring the brain’s blood supply is not compromised. A 2011 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine raised doubts about the efficacy and appropriateness of brain stents. This study suggested they could actually increase the risk of stroke in some patients, making it important to carefully evaluate stenting candidates before recommending the procedure.
The use of stents has been particularly valuable in cardiology, where stents can be used to open vessels around the heart and keep them open in cases of coronary artery disease and other conditions associated with narrowing and blockages. Installation of a brain stent requires a similar procedure, where a catheter is threaded into the blood vessel of interest so the doctor can insert an expandable stent. Once it is in place, the doctor can push it open to support the artery and withdraw the catheter.
Image guidance is critical for the placement of a brain stent, to make sure it is in the right place. In addition, the doctor may request an angiography study to follow the movement of blood inside the brain. This allows the practitioner to confirm that the stent was placed properly and is working correctly. If it is not, a follow-up procedure may be necessary to address the situation.
Patients who have experienced strokes related to blocked arteries and clotting can be at risk of future incidents. It is common to recommend drug therapy in these cases with clot-busting medications to help lower the risk of stroke. The brain stent is another possible option which could hold the vessel open so it wouldn’t obstruct again. This could be combined with other treatments to focus on overall stroke risk, including not just medications but diet and exercise measures to promote cardiovascular health.
Researchers conducting the brain stent study in 2011 found that stented patients tended to experience poorer outcomes. Some had an increased risk of stroke, dying within days or weeks of stent placement when they might not otherwise have done so. Other scientists felt that a brain stent could be valuable and appropriate in some cases, but agreed the study showed evidence that it would be critical to carefully evaluate a patient before recommending this treatment. Follow-up monitoring would also be important, to identify complications as early as possible.