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Heart Disease Health Center

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Bill Clinton Has Coronary Artery Procedure

Stents Are Placed in the Former President's Coronary Artery
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 11, 2010 -- Former President Bill Clinton's readmission to the hospital Thursday -- for the placement of two stents in a coronary artery -- was perhaps shocking to the public, but not surprising to a cardiologist.

Clinton, 63, was admitted to the Columbia Campus of New York-Presbyterian Hospital for the procedure, according to a statement by Douglas Band, a counselor to the former president. This is the same hospital where Clinton had quadruple bypass surgery in 2004 to free four blocked arteries.

''This is not an unusual occurrence after bypass surgery," says P.K. Shah, MD, director of cardiology at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles. Shah is not treating Clinton and spoke to WebMD about bypass procedures in general.

What might have gone wrong?

Anyone who has had bypass grafts for heart disease is still at risk for heart problems, Shah says. "The bypass grafts themselves can develop plaque buildup and narrowing." When that happens, chest pains are the usual symptoms.

Without knowing the details of Clinton's condition, Shah tells WebMD that three scenarios are possible:

  • There could be a problem with a graft.
  • A problem could have developed beyond the graft site in an artery that was operated on in 2004.
  • A new narrowing or blockage could have developed in an artery that wasn't bypassed.

Isn't this early to develop problems so soon after bypass surgery?

Not necessarily, Shah says. Here's why: ''If he had four grafts [in the original surgery], chances are good that at least one was probably from the leg."

"The vein graft [from the leg], when put into coronary circulation, tends to develop disease rapidly. By five years, 30% to 40% of leg vein grafts are either closed or narrowed."

Typically, the patient undergoes an angiogram to get a visual image of the narrowing, Shah says. Next, the narrowed artery can be opened up with a balloon. A stent can be placed in the artery to keep it open.

Could Clinton have done something to prevent this?

Bypass patients are always advised to follow a healthy lifestyle, including rigorous control of blood pressure, cholesterol, and other risk factors, Shah says.

But, he adds, ''even with rigorous control, disease can still occur."

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