Heart disease kills about 600,000 people in the United States every year. It is the leading cause of death in the United States. Heart disease is caused by fatty plaque that builds up in a person’s arteries. This build-up of plaque narrows the arteries and sometimes prevents blood flow to the heart. When the heart does not get enough blood, it cannot function correctly and the body starts to shut down.
The plaque build-up is caused by eating high-cholesterol foods and not exercising. The cholesterol in the food deposits plaque along the walls of the arteries. Over time, these deposits build up until the artery is partially or completely blocked. Lack of exercise allows the plaque to accumulate without being flushed out of the system.
One way we can prevent heart disease is by eating more healthful meals that include fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. These low fat and low cholesterol foods will limit the amount of plaque build-up in the arteries. A daily routine of exercise will help the blood flow through the body more efficiently and clear out any plaque deposits. Avoiding fast food restaurants and cooking at home with whole foods will also limit the plaque build-up.
For people with heart disease that cannot be reversed with good nutrition and exercise, there is a technological alternative. A person can opt to have tiny metal, mesh rings called a “stents” placed in their arteries to widen them and allow blood to flow more freely to their heart. The process starts with the routing of a small wire through an artery in the leg toward the heart. Once the wire reaches the blockage, another tube is inserted over the wire. This tube is made up of a stent and a balloon. Once the balloon is in the proper place, it is inflated and expands the mesh stent. The balloon is then deflated and removed along with the wire and tubing. The wire mesh stent is left in place to hold open the blocked artery. Adequate blood flow is now restored to the heart.
The process of making and placing stents requires the expertise and cooperation of many different types of engineers. The first engineer involved in the process is a software engineer. She creates 3D images of the stent that help the mechanical engineers build the device. The software engineers also create the computer imagery that allows the surgeons to look inside the patient’s body to find the blocked artery.
Mechanical engineers use the 3D imagery to build the stents. They also consult with material engineers to make sure they are using materials suitable for such a delicate and inaccessible environment. The last engineer included in the making of stents is the biomedical engineer. She finds ways to combine technology and medicine in new and exciting ways.
The engineers who create and manufacture this device play a big role in helping heart disease victims survive. Their cooperation and vision has helped millions of people live longer, happier lives.