Bernie Sanders hospitalized for blocked artery, stent procedure — here’s what recovery will look like

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After experiencing chest pains during a campaign event in Las Vegas, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was treated by doctors for a blocked artery and had two stents inserted. (Photo: Preston Ehrler/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
After experiencing chest pains during a campaign event in Las Vegas, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was treated by doctors for a blocked artery and had two stents inserted. (Photo: Preston Ehrler/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was hospitalized Tuesday night after experiencing chest pains during a campaign event in Las Vegas.

A medical evaluation revealed a blocked artery in the 78-year-old Vermont senator, prompting a heart procedure in a Las Vegas hospital in which doctors inserted two stents — tiny wire mesh tubes designed to keep blocked arteries open, restoring blood flow.

Although a blocked artery sounds serious, it’s common. “Coronary disease is very common,” Jon Resar, MD, director of adult cardiac catheterization laboratory at Johns Hopkins Medicine, tells Yahoo Lifestyle, noting that former President Bill Clinton had quadruple coronary bypass surgery in 2004 (followed by stent surgery in 2010) and former President George W. Bush had a blocked coronary artery and a stent inserted in 2003.

In the procedure (also known as angioplasty), which is done under sedation, a small incision is made in the wrist or groin to access an artery. A guidewire, followed by a catheter, is then threaded through the artery until it reaches the blockage, according to the Mayo Clinic. Contrast dye is injected and then pictures are taken to get a good visual of the blockage, explains Resar. A small balloon attached to the catheter is inflated, opening up the blocked artery, and then a stent is inserted to keep the passage open.

“We do the process from the wrist instead of from the leg,” says Resar. “Recovery is easier. You’re able to sit up and eat immediately after the procedure. There’s also a decreased risk of bleeding.”

After the procedure, Sanders “would be able to resume all of his normal campaign activities without really any downtime,” says Resar, who has not treated Sanders. “Patients are often home the same day. My anticipation is he’ll be back on the campaign trail.”

Resar also notes that Sanders’s physician will focus on ways the presidential candidate can reduce any risk factors for coronary artery disease, such as eating a healthier diet (“On the campaign trail, they eat a lot of junk food,” notes Resar), exercise and likely cholesterol-lowering medication — a statin — if Sanders is not taking one already. “Stress does play a role, but it’s down on the list,” says Resar.

Based on a statement from Sanders’s senior adviser, Jeff Weaver, released on Wednesday, it sounds like the senator is recovering well: "Sen. Sanders is conversing and in good spirits,” it reads. “He will be resting up over the next few days. We are canceling his events and appearances until further notice, and we will continue to provide appropriate updates.”

In the meantime, Sanders, who remains hospitalized, has received an outpouring of support from fans and other politicians on social media.

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