Stents can save lives by propping open clogged arteries in heart disease patients, but a new study suggests stents may do nothing to relieve another common heart problem --- chest pain.
The study, published in the Lancet, examined the use of stents, the wire mesh tubes used to open blocked arteries.
Researchers in the United Kingdom recruited 200 patients with blocked arteries and severe chest pain.
They were all treated with medication. Then, some patients were given a stent through a catheter. Others had a catheter inserted, but were not given a stent. Six weeks later, there was no real difference in chest pain between the groups.
"Really it's just an additional piece of what we've been trying to sort out in the interventional cardiology world for a long time," said Dr. Steve Kindsvater with The Heart Hospital Baylor Plano. "What this study is saying in some ways is, it is showing that sometimes medical therapy is enough to get us by and we don't necessarily need stents for everybody."
Kindsvater says questions are being raised since the study only looked at 200 patients with stable angina, that's chest pain or chest heaviness. That may mean a portion of the heart isn't getting enough blood flow. It did not evaluate anyone with more serious conditions.
Kindsvater says more often than not, stents are absolutely needed.
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"I myself have seen that many, many times," he said.
Despite the study, the decision should always be between you and your doctor.
"Coronary stents are extremely important in taking care of heart patients. It is something that won't go away in the near future," said Kindsvater.
Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans.