No Angioplasty for Blocked Arteries Anymore?
Celebrity blocked arteries have been in the news in the past few months a little more than most people can remember reading about in a long time. Bill Clinton had a procedure done with stents placed to help with this blocked arteries; David Letterman had a five-way bypass because all his arteries were practically all blocked. Many people who visit their doctors for a problem with blocked arteries, often have their doctors tell them that the best option they have to prevent a heart attack is an angioplasty. This is a procedure where they send a device into an artery that’s closing down; the device expands like a balloon, squashes all the plaque that’s deposited itself on the walls of the artery and opens everything up. Once an artery is opened up, they put in a little tube called a stent to keep the artery from collapsing again. It’s always been thought to be a great and simple way to solve a serious problem.
But now, doctors are beginning to feel otherwise – an angioplasty to open up blocked arteries may not really be the best way to keep a heart attack at bay, they feel. What is more, unless you’re actually having a heart attack, they feel that it won’t really be a good way to keep you alive in the long run. If you have blocked arteries, but you seem to feel fine, ordinary statin drugs that lower your cholesterol may be a much better bet. And it isn’t just some old out-of-the-way research that says this either – it’s the New England Journal of Medicine. Now this happens to be particularly relevant research. There are one million angioplasties done around the country every year. And as far as the American Heart Association is concerned, that’s twice as many as need to be done. So why exactly do they feel that a balloon angioplasty doesn’t do enough good?
The thing is, in people who aren’t going into cardiac arrest right then, a balloon angioplasty doesn’t really take care of the problem that needs taking care of – which are tiny little blockages and not the large ones that angioplasties are designed to take care of. Tiny little blockages often loosen up and travel along an artery and go block something important. Doctors usually ignore the smaller blockages and go for the big ones because the big ones are the ones that look scary. When the little ones break block something important, you could even get a heart attack. What you want is exercise and cholesterol-lowering drugs. These are what can take care of the small plaques.
If your doctor insists on sticking to the old regimen of recommending angioplasty for blocked arteries, you should probably get a second opinion.