Stents, the tiny metal tubes used to relieve former President Bill Clinton's heart problem on Thursday, are one of medicine's most common devices and are implanted in about one million Americans annually. The devices are deployed during angioplasty procedures, which are used to clear obstructed arteries in the heart.
A catheter inserted into an artery in the patient's groin is used to thread a balloon through the body to a blockage, in this case one of Mr. Clinton's coronary arteries. After the balloon is inflated to clear the obstruction, the stent—which resembles a tiny mesh scaffold—is then put in place to prop open the diseased artery...
It is likely doctors used both when Mr. Clinton underwent his operation in 2004. "We have to use both arteries and veins because there are only so many arteries to go around," said Chet Rihal, director of the cardiac catheterization lab at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
Wall Street Journal, by Ron Winslow, 2/11/2010
Additional coverage: CBS News