Heart stents can save lives, but are too many Americans getting them unnecessarily?

Denise Dador Image
Tuesday, June 4, 2024
Stents can save lives but not all heart patients need one, experts say
A National Institutes of Health-funded study shed light on the outcomes and risks of getting a stent versus different treatments for heart disease.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Each year, nearly a million Americans get a stent - a tiny mesh tube that props open a clogged artery.

If you have heart disease, your doctor may recommend one. But whether you need it is something you should talk to your doctor about. Experts take a closer look at this popular option.

When Andrew Allcroft returned from home from work one day, he knew he had to go to the emergency room.

"I was just sitting there. And just like that. Lots and lots of pressure on my chest," the 71-year-old Glendale resident described.

"I did not know it was a heart attack," his wife Jennifer said.

Scans revealed what was going on.

"My front artery was clogged 86% and my back artery was clogged 80%," he said.

In the catheter lab, Allcroft's doctors inserted a small mesh tube called a stent to open up his arteries.

"You only want to get a stent if you're having a heart attack or you are unstable," said interventional cardiologist Dr. Gregory Giesler with Southern California Heart Specialists in Pasadena.

He added that a stent can save your life during a heart attack, but the latest research reveals whether it can prevent one, too.

A large National Institutes of Health-funded study found patients with moderate to severe but stable heart disease treated with risk reduction meds and lifestyle advice were no more at risk for heart attack and death than those who got stents or surgery.

"For those people who are asymptomatic, stents do not reduce your risk of future events," he said.

Giesler said patients with less than 70% blockage should try high blood pressure and cholesterol lowering medications and lifestyle changes first.

"There can be complications of having a stent. The stent could clot," he said.

Other problems that can occur include a tear inside your artery called restenosis, which is when your artery gets narrowed again. Plus, there's a possibility of a stroke.

"Stents are not benign. Stents can have problems in the future. You want to use them under the right circumstances," Giesler said.

Always discuss your risks and benefits with your doctor. And for stent patients like Allcroft, reducing plaque build up needs to be a priority.

"They give me medications for it. I have blood thinners and different blood pressure medicine that I take," Allcroft said.

And he's doing what he says he should have been doing before: daily exercise and a heart healthy diet.