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Help for High-Risk Heart Attacks

Study Shows Angioplasty After Treatment With Clot-Busting Drugs Reduces Complications

Angioplasty After Heart Attack: Study Results

Those treated with routine angioplasty after the clot busters fared better than those given standard treatment, Goodman's team found.

Angioplasty was eventually performed in more than 67% of patients in the standard treatment group at a median of nearly 22 hours (half longer, half less) after being assigned to the group and in nearly 85% of those in the routine angioplasty group a median of 3.2 hours after being assigned.

The researchers evaluated patients 30 days after the attack, considering complications such as death, repeat heart attack, recurrent heart pain, new or worsening heart failure and cardiogenic shock, in which the heart's pumping ability declines.

When the researchers looked at all those complications together, 17.2% of the standard treatment group had them, compared to only 11% of the routine angioplasty group. "The group that went for the early angioplasty had significantly fewer of those events," Goodman says. There were no differences in rates of bleeding complications.

Second Opinions

In an editorial accompanying the study, Freek Verheugt, MD, writes that the newest study agrees with findings of prior smaller studies and "can be considered definitive." He further argues that all patients who have received clot-busting medication during a heart attack should be routinely transferred to a hospital where they can undergo early angioplasty.  Given the totality of the published data, Verheugt concludes that pursuing angioplasty between two and 24 hours after the clot buster infusion is best.

"I think it's an important trial and a helpful trial as we try to understand the best strategies for treating patients with heart attack," says Sidney Smith, MD, former president of the American Heart Association and professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

While it's too early to say whether the study findings will change practice, Smith says, "It will reinforce the idea that patients at high risk will benefit from being transferred to a cardiac catheterization lab soon after the heart attack."

"This is important evidence to support the use of early PCI [angioplasty] in high-risk patients who have STEMIs," he says.

In the recent study, he notes, the major benefits in the group that got clot busters followed quickly by angioplasty were prevention of the vessel from becoming occluded again and prevention of repeat heart attacks.

The take-home message, says Goodman, is that time is of the essence in getting treatment for a loved one you suspect is having a heart attack.

"The most important thing is to call 911 and get an ambulance to take you to the closest emergency department,'' he says. "Don't worry about whether it does or does not have angioplasty capability."

That way, a patient can get the clot buster and be transferred, if necessary, early on, Goodman says.

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