Recently, I became the first physician in the D.C. metro region to implant a new type of stent to treat coronary artery disease in one of my patients. The new system, known as the SYNERGY™ stent, is a really exciting option for opening blocked arteries since it reduces the duration of blood-thinning medications.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the SYNERGY™ stent in October. Already, it is becoming a top choice for me and my fellow cardiologists at the Inova Heart and Vascular Institute.
What Is Coronary Artery Disease?
Coronary artery disease occurs when fatty deposits called plaque build up inside the arteries. The plaque buildup can partially or totally block the artery, interfering with normal blood flow. This can lead to chest pain, shortness of breath and an increased risk of having a heart attack.
One of our go-to methods for treating this condition is a procedure called angioplasty, where we inflate a small balloon catheter to open the narrowed artery. Following that procedure, we often implant a metal mesh tube called a stent into the artery.
The stent props the artery open, allowing blood to flow through more easily. It remains in the artery permanently.
Traditional Stent Options
Until recently, we’ve had two types of stent options to choose from. The first generation of stent implants were made of metal mesh. So-called “bare metal” stents are effective, but they can trigger scar tissue to form, causing the artery to re-narrow.
To avoid that complication, we can use implants called drug-eluting stents. They are made of metal coated with a special polymer layer. (Polymers are a class of man-made compounds that include nylon, polyester and the nonstick coating found on pans.) The polymer releases a drug into the artery over several months. The drug prevents scar tissue from forming.
Unfortunately, long-term exposure to the polymer can sometimes cause other problems. Most seriously, the drug-coated stents can, rarely, result in the formation of blood clots at the stent site. This can occur in the first year or even several years after the stent is implanted.
This complication, called late-stent thrombosis, is rare but dangerous. To avoid clots, patients must take blood-thinning drugs for a prolonged period.
SYNERGY™ Stent: The Best of Both Worlds
The new SYNERGY™ stent is exciting because it combines the benefits of bare-metal and drug-coated stents.
SYNERGY™ stents are coated with a very thin polymer layer that releases drugs to prevent scar tissue from forming in the artery. But after the drug has been released, the body completely absorbs the polymer.
What remains is essentially a bare-metal stent. Patients with the SYNERGY™ stent get all the benefits of drug-coated stents without the risk of long-term exposure to the polymer. They aren’t at risk for developing late-stent thrombosis, so, they don’t have to take blood thinners for an extended period.
State-of-the-Art Heart Care
In late January, I implanted the SYNERGY™ stent into a patient with a difficult case. One of her major arteries was 99 percent blocked. But the procedure went smoothly, and we couldn’t have asked for a better outcome. It was so gratifying to give my patient this state-of-the-art implant, and she’s doing well.
The Inova Heart and Vascular Institute is nationally recognized for its treatment of coronary artery disease. Last year, our physicians performed more than 2,300 procedures to open blocked coronary arteries. We’re so pleased to be offering this new option to our patients.
If you need heart care, learn more about the award-winning team of heart and vascular doctors at the Inova Heart and Vascular Institute.