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Many Stent Procedures Unnecessary

Heart Drugs Just as Good at Preventing Heart Attacks, Death in Some People, Study Shows
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 26, 2007 (New Orleans) -- Hundreds of thousands of Americans may undergo unnecessary angioplasty and stent procedures to open clogged heart arteries each year, a landmark study suggests.

The long-awaited results show that people with stable coronary artery disease who got common medications to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels were no more likely to die or to have a heart attack over the next five years than those who also underwent angioplasty with stents.

Of the more than 1.2 million angioplasty procedures performed each year, at least 50% of them are done on an elective basis in people with stable coronary artery disease, says Stephen Nissen, MD, president of the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and head of cardiovascular medicine at The Cleveland Clinic.

In people with coronary artery disease, plaque builds up in the arteries, making it harder for blood to get through, thereby depriving the heart muscle of oxygen. This can lead to chronic chest pain that worsens during exercise and to heart attacks.

During angioplasty, a balloon at the end of a long tube is threaded through an artery in the groin. The doctor shimmies the probe up through the patient's leg and into the arteries of the heart, inflating the tiny balloon at the spot where the vessel has narrowed.

To keep the vessel open, doctors usually add a stent to the end of the balloon catheter. These metal, mesh-like tubes prop open clogged arteries to restore blood flow.

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