Bypass surgery provides a lower risk of death and heart attacks than do stents for people with blockages of at least two heart arteries, says a report in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).
The finding is far from the last word on the stent-versus-surgery debate in such cases, says study author Dr. Edward L. Hannan, at the State University of New York at Albany.
"But there isn't any other study right now that is better than this," he says. "Physicians need to inform patients about these results and need to engage in a dialogue that includes these findings to determine what is the proper treatment for multi-vessel disease."
Dr. Hannan studied the outcomes of more than 17,400 procedures for people with multiple blocked coronary arteries.
The outcomes were consistently better in an 18-month follow-up for bypass surgery than for the artery-opening procedure called angioplasty followed by insertion of a drug-coated tube known as a stent.
For example, 92.1 percent of those who had surgery for three blocked arteries had no heart attacks and were alive, compared to 89.7 percent of those who got stents.
For those with two blocked arteries, the comparable numbers were 94.5 percent for surgery and 92.5 for stent implants.
The study was not a randomized, controlled trial, which is regarded as the gold standard for medical research.
It was observational, meaning that the researchers simply recorded what happened in medical practice rather than trying to control all the factors involved in choosing a treatment.
"But the randomized trials done in the past have not necessarily been better," explains Dr. Hannan. "They were restricted to patients who were not very sick, and they also did not recognize that when you compare two treatments, some patients might not prefer the one that is more invasive."
Surgery is more invasive than angioplasty, since it requires the chest to be cut open. Angioplasty is done by threading a flexible tube called a catheter through a blood vessel into the heart.
One shortcoming of the study is the relatively short follow-up period of 18 months, says Dr. Joseph P. Carrozza, at Harvard Medical School, who wrote an accompanying editorial.
"One would like to see patients followed for up to five years," says Dr. Carrozza.
"There is nothing in this study that makes us feel surgery is the treatment of choice for patients with multi-vessel disease," he adds.
Such a verdict will have to wait on the results of several randomized trials now underway, says Dr. Carrozza.
"This is just one piece of evidence we have right now before we get the final word, he explains.
And yet, Dr. Carrozza says, "This is the first really large study to look at this issue now" and thus should be considered by physicians and heart patients requiring treatment for blocked coronary arteries.
Another report in the same issue of the journal compared the safety of bare-metal to drug-coated stents for so-called "off-label" uses - implants for conditions where there is no formal government approval.
About half of all stent implants are for such conditions.
Questions have been raised about the safety of drug-coated stents in off-label conditions, said a report by a group led by Dr. Oscar C. Marroquin, at the University of Pittsburgh.
But the study of 6,551 cases found a lower rate of complications and no increased risk of death or heart attack for drug-coated stents as compared to the bare-metal kind.
"These findings support the use of drug-eluting stents for off-label indications," the researchers write.
That report comes on the heels of a study of off-label use of a different kind of stent, developed for use against bile duct obstructions in cancer patients.
More than 1 million patients got stents for off-label conditions between 2003 and 2006, according to a report by Dr. William Maisel, director of the Medical Safety Device Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
Some 1,000 malfunctions of the devices were reported, with 81 percent of them in off-label uses.
Always consult your physician for more information.
The symptoms of coronary heart disease will depend on the severity of the disease.
Some persons with CAD have no symptoms, some have episodes of mild chest pain or angina, and some have more severe chest pain.
If too little oxygenated blood reaches the heart, a person will experience chest pain called angina.
When the blood supply is completely cut off, the result is a heart attack, and the heart muscle begins to die.
Some persons may have a heart attack and never recognize the symptoms. This is called a "silent" heart attack.
Symptoms of coronary artery disease may include:
In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for coronary artery disease may include any, or a combination of, the following:
electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) - a test that records the electrical activity of the heart, shows abnormal rhythms (arrhythmias or dysrhythmias), and detects heart muscle damage.
stress test (usually with ECG; also called treadmill or exercise ECG) - a test that is given while a patient walks on a treadmill to monitor the heart during exercise. Breathing and blood pressure rates are also monitored.
A stress test may be used to detect coronary artery disease, and/or to determine safe levels of exercise following a heart attack or heart surgery.
cardiac catheterization - with this procedure, x-rays are taken after a contrast agent is injected into an artery - to locate the narrowing, occlusions, and other abnormalities of specific arteries.
nuclear scanning - radioactive material is injected into a vein and then is observed using a camera as it is taken up by the heart muscle.
This indicates the healthy and damaged areas of the heart.
Always consult your physician for more information.
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