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Study: Stents as Good as Surgery at Keeping Neck Arteries Open

Procedures Lower Stroke Risk With Low Reblockage Rates
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Feb. 1, 2012 -- A less invasive approach for clearing neck arteries of dangerous plaque works just as well as surgical treatment for most people at high risk of stroke, according to the largest comparison of the two procedures to date.

Ninety-four percent of patients' arteries remained open two years after undergoing either surgery or the less invasive procedure, which involved inserting a stent.

Stenting, in which flexible mesh tubes are used to prop open blocked blood vessels, is widely used to clear plaque-clogged heart arteries, which cause heart attacks. More recently, it began to be used to open blocked neck arteries that lead to strokes, but surgery in which the vessel is cut open and cleared out, called endarterectomy, remains the gold standard.

Previous findings from the study of more than 2,500 patients showed that about 7% of patients had a stroke, heart attack, or died over a four-year period whether they underwent surgery or stenting.

"Even after these results were published, many doctors were reluctant to perform stenting of the carotid artery [the blood vessel running up the neck to the brain] as they worried about reblockage of the arteries," says researcher Brajesh K. Lal, MD, associate professor of vascular surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.

"Now we have evidence of virtually no difference in reblockage rate between surgery and stenting at two years," Lal tells WebMD.

Factors such as patient age and preference, and reimbursement, may influence the decision of whether to undergo stenting or surgery, he says.

The study, presented here at the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2012, was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke with supplemental funding from stent maker Abbott Vascular.

Neck Narrowing Causes 1 in 10 Strokes

Each year, more than 700,000 Americans suffer a stroke, and more than 140,000 die, making it the third leading cause of death in the United States.

In 2004 and 2005, about 320,000 surgeries and 20,000 stenting procedures were performed to open up plaque-laden neck arteries. Neck artery narrowing due to these blockages causes about 10% of strokes, according to Lal.

One of the unique aspects of the new study, called CREST, is that only about half of the patients had symptoms such as weakness on one side of the body or blurry vision. That’s important, Lal says, because about half of the procedures to unclog neck arteries are performed in people who have not yet developed symptoms.

In the study, 1,086 patients underwent stenting and 1,105 had surgery. By two years later:

  • Six percent of patients in both groups had a 70% or greater blockage in the treated section of their artery.
  • Complete blockage occurred in 0.3% of stenting patients and 0.5% of endarterectomy patients, a difference so small it could be due to chance.
  • Twenty stent patients and 23 endarterectomy patients needed another procedure to open up a reblocked carotid artery.


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