What is an esophageal stent procedure?
In an esophageal stent procedure, a tube is placed in the patient’s esophagus to keep open a blocked area. The tube helps the patient to swallow solids and liquids.
The esophagus is the muscular tube connecting the back of the mouth to the stomach. When humans swallow, the muscles of the esophagus contract and propel food into the stomach.
Many health problems can partly block a portion of the esophagus that will make it hard to swallow. The medical term for this is dysphagia. One might be having pain when he swallows or feels like food is getting stuck in his chest. This process can help in reopening the blocked esophagus and ease out the symptoms.
Esophageal stent procedure can take place under general anesthesia or conscious sedation. If it takes place under general anesthesia, the patient will sleep through the procedure and feel no pain. If it takes place under conscious sedation, the patient will get medicines to make him relaxed and sleepy. The surgeon may numb the area under surgery so that the patient won’t feel much pain.
During the procedure, the surgeon places a long, thin tube (catheter) down the back of the patient’s mouth and into his esophagus. Next, the surgeon places a folded-up hollow tube (stent) over the catheter in the correct position across the blockage. The stent expands against the walls of the esophagus, giving support. After it, the surgeon removes the catheter and leaves the stent in place.
Why might anyone need an esophageal stent procedure?
The patient might need an esophageal stent for a number of health problems. Traditionally, healthcare providers have most often used esophageal stents to treat esophageal cancer. That is still the most common reason. But these stents are also used to treat:
- Cancer of the upper part of the stomach
- Narrowing of the esophagus from an ulcer
- Narrowing of the esophagus from radiation treatment
- An abnormal opening between the trachea and esophagus
- Hole in the esophagus
Any of these health problems can cause dysphagia. Dysphagia is very serious because it can further lead to aspiration. At the time of aspiration, the patient inhales food and stomach contents into his lungs that can lead to complications like pneumonia. Dysphagia also lowers the quality of life. An esophageal stent can help ease these problems.
What are the risks of an esophageal stent procedure?
Esophageal stent procedures are relatively safe. But they do sometimes cause problems later. These might include:
- Pain in the esophagus
- Bleeding (usually mild)
- New hole in the esophagus (rare)
- Movement of the stent
- Tumor growth into the stent
- Gastroesophageal reflux
There is also a risk that the patient will need a repeat the procedure because of one of these complications. The patient’s own risks may vary based on the nature of his esophageal problem, his other health problems, and the type of stent used.
How can anyone get ready for an esophageal stent procedure?
The patient should have to stop eating and drinking the night before the procedure. Follow the healthcare provider’s instructions about what medicines to take or not take beforehand. Don’t stop taking any medicine unless the doctor tells him to do so. Plan to have someone available to drive the patient home afterward.
Tell your doctor about the following:
- Any allergies or past problems with anesthesia
- Any new health problems, like a recent fever
- If the patient is pregnant or might be pregnant
The health care provider might order some tests before the patient’s procedure. These might include a barium swallow test. It can give more information about the anatomy of the patient’s esophagus. Just before the procedure, the patient may receive an IV. It can deliver medicine to the patient during the procedure.
What happens during an esophageal stent procedure?
The procedure will usually take around an hour. In general, one can expect the following:
- If the patient is having conscious sedation, medicine will be given through an IV to make him feel sleepy and relaxed during the procedure. The patient may also have a numbing medicine to put on the back of the throat.
- If the patient is getting general anesthesia, medicine will be given through an IV to make him sleep deeply and painlessly.
- During the procedure, heart rate, blood pressure, and other vital signs will be carefully watched. If needed, the patient might get extra oxygen. The healthcare provider may use continuous X-ray images to view the procedure. In other cases, he or she might use a long, thin device with a small camera (endoscope).
- The doctor will slowly put a catheter through the mouth and into his esophagus.
- The doctor will move the folded-up esophageal stent over the catheter to the blockage site. The stent is often made of metal or plastic. It will then open up against the wall of the esophagus.
- After the procedure has been completed, the provider will remove the catheter from the patient’s esophagus. The stent will stay in place.
What happens after an esophageal stent procedure?
Typically, esophageal stent placement is an outpatient procedure. The patient will stay for a few hours after the surgery, while his vital signs are watched. Make sure someone is there to drive the patient home. In other cases, the patient may need to stay at the hospital overnight.
The patient may have some discomfort after the procedure. But it usually doesn’t last longer than a day or two. The patient can have over-the-counter pain medicines if he needs them.