Big, new study says certain heart procedures may not be needed

Over the years, it has more or less been a given for patients with little or no chest pain, but diagnosed with clogged arteries to have a procedure, such as by-pass surgery or angioplasty.

In America there are 17 million people who have clogged arteries which lessens and slows down the heart’s blood supply to the body which can result in periodic chest pain. Generally for these people, medications that are known to cut the risk of a heart attack are prescribed such as aspirin, cholesterol-lowering drugs and blood pressure medications. However, a lot of doctors also recommend a procedure in order to increase blood flow such as by-pass surgery or angioplasty.

But a huge study ordered by the federal government costing $100 million and spanning a four year period says otherwise.

The study was conducted by New York University, which included 5,179 people who had stress tests done on a treadmill, with results suggesting blood flow was crimped. They were all given advice on healthy lifestyle and medicines known to improve heart health. Half of the participants also were given a CAT scan in order to rule out any dangerous blockages, then allowed to continue on their medications.

Then the group who had CAT scans done were treated invasively with either angioplasty or a by-pass surgery. 

Doctors tracked the number of people in each group to see who suffered either a heart attack, heart-related death, cardiac arrest or hospitalization event. Follow-ups were made on all participants after one year and four year periods.

Researchers found that after a year 7% of the people who had invasive treatment experienced one of those events while 5% did who were on medication alone.Then at the four year mark, things reversed. 13% of those with invasive procedures/medication and 15% of those on medications only, experienced an event. This showed researchers that things averaged out regardless of treatment and shows that invasive procedure may not be necessary early on.

Researchers concluded that medicines proved just as effective at reducing heart problem events as invasive surgery because the by-pass surgery or stents only fix a small area, whereas, medicines have an effect on all the arteries as well as including other spots that just may be starting to clog. Also medicines have improved a great deal in recent years.

The study did show though, that having a procedure did reduce chest pain within a year while it did take longer for those on medication only. The final decision has to be made between the patient and their doctor.