MONDAY, Feb. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Many people with stable heart disease undergo an expensive artery-opening procedure when medication would work just as well, a new study suggests.
The procedure involves placing a tiny mesh stent, or tube, in a clogged artery. As many as three-quarters of these operations are unnecessary, said lead researcher Dr. David L. Brown, a professor of medicine at Stony Brook University Medical Center in New York.
Money is the driving force, Brown said. "Everybody gets paid to put in stents, the hospital gets paid, the doctor gets paid, the stenting company gets paid," he said. "It's how our fee-for-service environment has taken over the decision making of this branch of cardiology."
Stenting costs an average of $9,500 more to the patient over a lifetime compared with medication, Brown said. Although the procedure, called percutaneous coronary intervention, reduces death and future heart attacks for someone actually having a heart attack, its use in stable heart disease patients is questionable, he noted.
For the study, published Feb. 27 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, Brown and Dr. Kathleen Stergiopoulos, an associate professor of clinical medicine at Stony Brook, analyzed eight trials involving more than 7,000 patients randomly assigned to medical therapy or stenting plus medication. The trials were begun between 1997 and 2005.
In this type of study, called a meta-analysis, researchers look for patterns that might not have been the main intent of the individual trials.
During an average follow-up of more than four years, no significant differences were seen in longevity or quality of life.
Overall, 649 patients died, 322 who received stents and 327 who received medication alone, the study found. Nonfatal heart attacks were suffered by 323 patients with stents and 291 taking only medication.
Among those w
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