For many heart patients, drugs as good as stents
Report: Early angioplasty edge fades in months
People with chronic chest pain who are not in big danger of a heart attack now may have even less reason to rush into an artery-opening angioplasty: There's more evidence drugs should be tried first and often are just as effective.
The slim early advantage for angioplasty at relieving pain in these non-emergency cases starts to fade within six months and vanishes after three years, according to a new report from a landmark heart study.
That is sooner than the five years doctors estimated last year after their first analysis of the study. The new information comes from patients' own reports of how they fared after treatment. Results are in today's New England Journal of Medicine.
This study should lead more patients to try drugs before resorting to the $40,000 heart procedure, said Duke University's Dr. Eric Peterson, who co-authored an editorial in the medical journal.
The number of angioplasties has been falling since the first results from this big study came out in 2007, according to new figures from an American College of Cardiology database.
However, at least a third of angioplasties are done on people not in imminent danger, to relieve chest pain. These patients are no more likely to die or suffer a heart attack if initially treated with drugs alone, the big 2,287-patient study revealed.
Still, angioplasty's fans tout it as a quick fix that improves quality of life. That benefit is fairly small and short-lived, compared with good medication use alone, the new report found.
Researchers did follow-up health surveys of about 70 percent of the study's participants. At the start, 78 percent had chest pain.
Three months after treatment, 53 percent of patients who had angioplasties plus drug treatment and 42 percent of the drugs-alone patients were free of chest pain. Both groups continued to improve, and the gap started to narrow within six months.
After three years, their scores on chest pain, quality of life, and treatment satisfaction did not significantly differ.
Many of the researchers have consulted for drug makers, and many of the study's critics have consulted for stent makers.