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What Cardiologists May Not Tell You about Getting a Stent

An innovative study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that many cardiologists overstated the benefits and downplayed the risks of stents.

When people experience symptoms of chest pain, they frequently undergo diagnostic procedures on their coronary arteries to see whether they are having a heart attack. When there is blockage visible on an angiogram, an interventional cardiologist may offer to put in a stent.

An innovative study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that many cardiologists overstated the benefits and downplayed the risks of such a procedure. Most failed to tell the patient that this intervention does not reduce the risk of a heart attack or premature death and that symptoms may return after five years.

This applies only to people with stable angina. People with severe symptoms that indicate that a heart attack is imminent do benefit from angioplasy or stents, but many previous studies suggest that these procedures are overused. Before agreeing to something like a stent, be sure to ask enough questions to be satisfied that you really will benefit. Don’t be persuaded by a scary picture alone.

 [JAMA Internal Medicine, online Aug 25, 2014]

Another study in the same issue showed that many people mistakenly believe that PCI (angioplasty or stents) can prevent heart attacks when they have stable angina chest pains. Providing explicit information to counteract that misperception frequently changed the decision they would make in that situation.

Whether or not you and your doctor determine together that a stent is needed, you may wish to follow up on other approaches to keeping your heart in good shape. You can learn about them in our Guide to Cholesterol Control and Heart Health.


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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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