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Better Way to Avoid Artery Reclog?

Study Looks at Drug-Coated Angioplasty Balloons as Alternative to Drug-Coated Stents in Heart
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 15, 2006 (Chicago) - Researchers have come up with a way to keep heart arteries from reclogging after doctors use a tiny angioplasty balloon to open them: Coat the balloons with drugs.

In a study of 52 people, using a drug-coated balloon significantly cut the chance of artery reclogging, says researcher Bruno Scheller, MD, of Saarland University in Homburg, Germany.

The findings were met with enthusiasm by U.S. researchers at the American Heart Association (AHA) meeting here.

Only hours before they heard conflicting reports about the long-term safety of drug-coated stents - another device used for clogged arteries.

Since first approved for use in the U.S. in 2003, drug-coated stents -- also called drug-eluting stents -- have been embraced as the best way to prevent reclogging of the artery.

The new study suggests using a coated balloon may be a better option.

"These are very encouraging results," says past AHA President Sidney C. Smith Jr., MD. Smith is a heart specialist at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

"With drug-coated stents, [reclogging] is less of a problem, but it's still a problem," he tells WebMD.

Add to that the fact that some new studies suggest drug-coated stents may carry a delayed risk of dangerous blood clots, and there's a tremendous need for new options, Smith says.

From Angioplasty to Stents and Beyond

Angioplasty is used in more than a third of people with heart disease.

With simple angioplasty, a balloon at the end of a long tube is threaded through an artery in the groin.

The doctor guides the tube up the artery and into the heart, inflating the balloon where the vessel has narrowed.

The balloon opens up the walls of the vessel. Then it is deflated and removed.

But in about 25% or 30% of patients, the arteries close up again.

Adding a Stent

To keep the vessel open, doctors often install a stent after deflating the balloon. The metal, mesh-like tube props open the clogged artery and restores blood flow.

Stents bring the rate of renarrowing down to about 15% to 25%.

In recent years, stents coated with drugs to reduce buildup of scar tissue have become increasingly popular.

They appear to provide additional protection against reblockage and now account for up to 90% of all stent placements in the U.S.

Research has shown these drug-coated stents can lower the risk of heart attack and reduce the need for repeat surgeries to clear clogged arteries.

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