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Heart Disease Health Center

Diabetes, Heart Disease: Drugs vs. Surgery

Drug Therapy Just as Good as Angioplasty or Surgery for Diabetes Patients With Heart Disease
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 8, 2009 -- For people with diabetes and stable heart disease, drug therapy works just as well as immediate bypass surgery or angioplasty to open clogged arteries, a study suggests.

The results show that such patients were no more likely to die or to have a heart attack or stroke over a five-year period if they took medications to control blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels than if they underwent prompt bypass surgery or angioplasty with or without stents.

But for some patients, immediate bypass surgery may cut the risk of heart attacks, the study shows.

Results also suggest that diabetes drugs that lower the body's resistance to insulin, such as metformin, Avandia, and Actos, work just as well and are just as safe as drugs that increase the amount of insulin in the body.

"This should provide reassurance to patients," since some studies have suggested that drugs like Avandia may be harmful to the heart, says researcher Trevor Orchard, MD, of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

The study was presented at the American Diabetes Association (ADA) 69th Scientific Sessions in New Orleans and simultaneously published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The results do not apply to people who get bypass surgery or angioplasty because they are in the midst of a heart attack or whose chest pain or other symptoms suddenly gets worse, doctors stress. For them, prompt intervention to open or bypass clogged arteries is a proven lifesaver.

Comparing Drug Therapy and Surgery

Two years ago, another study showed that angioplasty plus stents are no better than drug treatment at preventing heart attacks and death in people who do not have diabetes.

The new study aimed to find the best way to treat people with type 2 diabetes and heart disease, which Orchard calls "the deadly duo."

More than 20 million Americans have type 2 diabetes, which involves the body's inability to properly use its own insulin and occurs mainly in adults who are overweight and 40 and older. More than 65% of deaths in people with diabetes are due to heart disease or stroke.

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