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Arterial Disease

Some Topics

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Angioplasty  Disappointment

No group of diseases has received more attention than diet-related arterial disease. No other diseases have received more drug promotion and educational effort both from government agencies and from private fund-raising organizations such as the American and Canadian Heart Associations. The rule in cardiovascular medicine is that all current practices and beliefs will change. The one constant is the diet revision and exercise cure all ills. You can fool some diseases some of the time, but not all diseases all the time. We continue to champion the simple idea that removing the cause of the disease is smarter than treating the effects.

One of the key innovations in heart attack prevention was unplugging blocked arteries by cardiac catheterization and angioplasty: a catheter is inserted into the femoral artery in the groin and guided through the aorta into the coronary arteries. Injected dye shows the arteries on X-rays and the catheter is guided to sites of obstruction. A balloon is inflated to dilate the blocked artery and a metal stent is left behind to hold the artery in an expanded position. Bare metal stents were associated with recurrent arterial blockage months to years after. Drug eluting stents were developed using anti-inflammatory agents that reduce restenosis but cost three times more.

The enthusiasm for PCI and drug-eluting arterial stents (DES) peaked in 2006. Drug coated stent sales generated $6 billion in the USA.  Follow-up studies have raised doubt about the safety of DES. According to Kaul and Diamond: “Thus, in the absence of a definitive trial, based on the reported estimate of 0.6% excess late stent thrombosis per year, and the attendant case fatality rate of 45%, we nevertheless estimate that using DES in 80% out of 1 million percutaneous coronary intervention cases would translate into 2,160 excess deaths per year attributable to late stent thrombosis in the United States alone.” 

The results of a large study reported at the American Cardiology Conference in New Orleans March 2007 that people with coronary artery disease who are treated with diet, exercise and optional drugs do  as well as patients who had a angioplasty to unblock clogged arteries.

Boden et al stated: “Although successful PCI of flow-limiting stenoses might be expected to reduce the rate of death, myocardial infarction, and hospitalization for acute coronary syndromes, previous studies have shown only that PCI decreases the frequency of angina and improves short-term exercise performance.” They concluded that preventive PCI in patients with CAD with  did not reduce the risk of death, myocardial infarction, or other major cardiovascular events when added to optimal medical therapy.

Kaul, S. Diamond GA. Drug-Eluting Stents: An Ounce of Prevention for a Pound of Flesh? Amer Coll Cadiology, Cardioscope, Online 10/11/2006

Boden W.E. et al Optimal Medical Therapy with or without PCI for Stable Coronary Disease. NEJM March 26 2007


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