Heart disease is the leading killer of men and women worldwide.

For many years, doctors have warned against the evils of smoking, and the positives of a good diet and exercise in order to keep your magical heart muscle thumping and pumping well into old age.

The good news is that technologically, we are now at a point where heart disease or even a heart attack, doesn’t automatically mean the end is upon you.

Remember the show The Bionic Man? There was also a Bionic Woman version, although slightly less of her was made of metal.

In that show, an amazing part of our hero’s body was made of metal, and yet he still managed to leap about, stronger and better than ever. He never even went beep when he went through airports.

When that show was made, X-rays were as close as anyone got to looking inside the human body without cutting it open.

Nowadays, CT and MRI scans provide a window previously unavailable to the internal workings of all of our organs.

Happily now, if you’ve got a dicky heart it’s easier to discover and faster to fix than ever before.

The vascular stent has been around since 1986, and was first used in France to keep scar tissue forming inside a vein. Even by modern medical standards, stents remain one of the great technological breakthroughs of our time.

A stent is a small mesh metal or plastic tube that is inserted into a vein or artery to open up a blood pathway that may have narrowed due to disease or vascular collapse.

Stents can also be used in other parts of the body, such as the kidneys and urethra, as well as in the gall bladder.

In recent years stents have become smaller and more site specific. They can be used to disperse plaque caused by bad cholesterol by acting as a balloon that cracks the hard outer layer of the plaque and spreads the mushy part, the inside gooey buildup, along the walls of the veins or even removing it all together by. It sounds grim, but this technique has saved literally millions of lives. Blocked arteries are deadly, balloon stents unblock them, and all with keyhole surgery.

Stents can also be used to repair tears in veins, as they act as a kind of splint to the tissue. Remember, most of the procedures we are about talking here involve instruments and materials that are small enough to fit through veins. This may be something we take for granted these days, but the technology has gone from impossible to incredible in a few short years. Working INSIDE the blood flow system of the human body requires steady hands and a tonne of knowledge, as well as instruments measured in tenths of millimetres.

Keyhole surgery has become the norm for many procedures, cutting down the risk of infection, uncontrolled bleeding and great improving the speed of recovery for most patients. Stents can be comfortably and permanently put in place with little more to show on the surface than 3 tiny cuts less than a centimetre wide.

The latest materials being used in stent surgery is Nitnol, Nickle Titanium, an alloy which has the duel qualities of super elasticity- meaning that it stretches up to 30 times that of ordinary metals at low temperatures,- and shape memory.

Shape memory is when a material is formed in one position and then heated and reformed at a different temperature. When the temperature of the metal is changed, the object ‘remembers’ its form at this heat. Shape memory in a coronary stent has obvious advantages. With delicate structures like human arteries, flexibility is absolutely essential. A stent inserted at one temperature will change to the required shape when it ‘recognizes’ the heat of its second or even third environment.

Shape memory in metal has billions of applications (ask bra manufacturers), and its use in medicine is still being explored and discovered.

For anyone in need of heart, vascular, or any other surgery where continuous movement of blood and other fluids are vital, the good news is that game changing breakthroughs being made every year. The bionic man world is no longer a fantasy, but an ordinary way of life.



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