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Studies Reveal Inappropriate Use Of Drug-Coated Stents

Drug-releasing stents, till recently the rage among doctors treating patients with blocked arteries, do not seem as promising now. Studies currently link them with a low, but serious risk of fatal complications arising from blood clots.

The research by American scientists in two different studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association show that many doctors have stretched the limit of their use- testing the effectiveness of such stents, even in unapproved conditions.

Drug-releasing stents or drug- eluting stents refer to stents, which have impregnated drugs that release slowly, in order to keep arteries open. The previous models with such drugs were plain metal stents i.e. wire-meshed tubes used to prop up de-clogged arteries.

When they were first approved for U.S. sale three years ago, the drug-infused devices were heralded as a revolution because they dramatically reduced the chances of an artery closing again.

The newer devices quickly supplanted the older bare-metal versions, generating almost 90 percent of all stent sales by early 2006 and creating a $6 billion market.

Yet studies reveal that off-label or untested use of drug-coated stents make up almost half of all uses of these devices for doctors treating blocked coronary arteries. However, even though the risk for complications is higher with off-label use, the absolute rate for patients are still low overall, the researchers say.

In one study of 5,541 patients, Dr. Nirat Beohar of Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago and colleagues found the risk of death, heart attack or blood clots more than doubled 30 days after drug-eluting stents were used in patients with conditions such as acute heart attack.

But the overall complication rate was relatively low at 2.5 percent, despite their use in high-risk patients.

Says Dr. Charles Davidson, one of the study's authors:'I look at this study as be
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