Doctor questions study that suggests heart stents are often ineffective

Results of a small study overseas were published in The Lancet

SYRACUSE (WSYR-TV) - A small and flexible tube, stents are a common tool to open blocked arteries and relieve chest pain-- but a new study overseas is raising questions about how well they really work.

"The stents are very, very safe devices. In fact, they've been studied almost more than any other medical device. They've been around for years," says Dr. Ronald Caputo, a cardiologist at St. Joseph's Hospital in Syracuse.

That's why he was surprised to hear that researchers in the UK believe stents may be overused and less effective than previously thought in some cases.

Caputo doesn't want his patients to jump to conclusions if they see headlines about the study.

"There are a lot of questions that need to be answered. It was a very small study, 200 patients were in this study. It was a very short follow-up. It was only six weeks and the end point was just some exercise time," Dr. Caputo adds.

According to a summary published in The Lancet, a medical journal, all of the patients involved believed they could have been given stents, but only about half really did get them.

"They actually took patients into a cath lab, instrumented them and did no procedure. That was really a novel thing. Really one of the first times I've ever seen anything like that happen," Caputo says.

Everyone was treated with medication. After several weeks, researchers say the stent treatments "...did not increase exercise time by more than the effect of a placebo procedure."

Don't expect doctors to quickly embrace the results. In most studies, thousands of patients are followed for years to make sure the research is reliable. 

About 790,000 Americans have a heart attack every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Caputo says guidelines for placing stents and studying their effectiveness are more stringent in the United States. Measures of success would reach far beyond the length of time a patient could exercise comfortable after six weeks of medication.

"What it might do, if you are on the fence whether a patient needs a stent or not, you  might be more conservative," Caputo says. "You might say, 'let's wait on the meds, let's see how things go for a little while.'"

Click here to to see more results from the study.

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