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Neuroradiologists Treat Brain Stroke With New Kind of Stent

Jul 11, 2008
A stroke is a blood clot in the brain, which blocks blood flow to a small or large area. The blockage in blood flow can cause death of the brain tissue, depending on how long the blockage deprives the tissue of oxygen. If a critical area of the brain is affected, like the parts which control involuntary functions such as breathing and circulation, the patient will die. If strokes are caught early enough, damage can be minimalized. It may be limited to a partial paralysis, especially of the facial muscles, problems with speech, movement problems, appetite loss, vision loss, difficulties in dealing with or expressing emotions, such as depression, mania, apathy, or even psychosis.

Strokes are differentiated from aneurysms, which occur when a blood vessel inside the brain bursts, causing bleeding in the brain.

Surgeons have developed a new device which could help prevent strokes, called the wingspan stent system. Stents are small pieces of metal which help hold open a blood vessel. They are often used to treat coronary artery disease, as they push arterial plaque to one side to allow blood free passage through. While stents themselves have been around for quite a while, these new wingspan stents are lighter and more flexible, and much better suited to the curvy arteries that are encountered in the brain. Traditional mechanical stents are designed for arteries in the heart or neck, and are much more rigid and difficult to maneuver.

This is not only important for the surgeons who are performing the operation. If a stroke has occurred in a smaller blood vessel in the brain, sometimes a heart stent will simply not be able to fit in there. Potentially dangerous operations must be undertaken without success, and further damage to brain tissue might occur.

The last thing that you want is further damage to the blood vessels in your brain, especially if they have already been weakened by an event such as a stroke. However, until now the only treatment options for stroke victims who have intracranial atherosclerotic disease were aspirin and other blood thinning drugs, or the stiffer stents used in the heart and neck, which could damage the artery walls in the brain.

These wingspan stents are inserted through the femoral artery, the body's largest artery, found in the leg. Neuroradiologists guide the stent up using a catheter and digital x-rays for image guidance, to its position in the brain. An angioplasty balloon is blown up inside the brain, to push the artery walls away from each other. Then the stent's protective covering is removed and it expands under its own pressure. Even if the stent is crushed manually (although this is unlikely, while inside the brain), it will pop back into position.

Brain function is greatly improved in patients who have these new wingspan stents inserted. This is due both to the increased blood flow to the area of the brain, and the greatly reduced risk of a recurring stroke.

Medical tourism is currently making this life-saving surgery available to more and more people. The cost of medicine in the US, and some European countries without socialized healthcare, can be prohibitive. However, life-saving operations like insertion of a wingspan stent can be performed in many Asian countries at a cost up to 8 times less than in a patient's home country. As medical tourism grows in popularity, the wingspan stent operation will become more mainstream and available to greater numbers of people.
About the Author
Bangkok Hospital - 36 years of advanced medical technology and expertise, complemented with Thai hospitality and compassionate care. Includes the world-renowned Bangkok Heart Hospital and specializing in oncology, neurology and orthopedics. Some of the worlds most advanced minimally invasive diagnostics and treatment procedures are in place.
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