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New Study Suggests Doctors Use Heart Stents More Than Needed

A study of more than 5,000 patients suggests doctors in many cases implant stents to open arteries when medication and lifestyle changes would produce the same result.

A recent study has raised concerns about using stents to treat heart disease. It suggests doctors in many cases implant stents to unblock arteries when medication and lifestyle changes would produce the same result.

Dr. Fahmi Jasmin Farah, a cardiologist with Baylor Scott White Hospital in Fort Worth, explained how the results could help patients.

She says in an emergency situation — an acute heart attack, a milder heart attack or an impending heart attack — where patients are treated in the hospital, doctors typically choose to use stents.

“We’re looking at revascularization, meaning if there is a blockage that’s the culprit for the heart attack, we need to open it up,” Farah said. "In patients who are completely asymptomatic, we can take the route of choosing medical therapy."

The new study involved more than 5,000 patients who had stable heart disease ranging from moderate to severe. After a stress test indicated heart disease, the patients were randomly assigned to receive either medical therapy and lifestyle counseling alone, or medicine plus stents or bypass surgery.

"There is a misconception, I believe, out there that if (patients) have a positive stress test — meaning an abnormal stress test — and we don't go in there and put a stent in, they're at risk of having a heart attack," Farah said. "That's the fundamental clarification we need and this study provides that."

There are steps people can take to avoid heart disease altogether. 

"There are some things that are in our control and some things that are not," Farah said. "But we have data that shows that 80% of heart disease is preventable." 

She recommends people don't smoke, eat a heart-healthy diet, exercise, reduce stress, monitor their blood pressure and consult with a doctor if their blood pressure is high.  


2019 Study

Stents and bypass surgery are no more effective than drugs for stable heart disease, highly anticipated trial results show

Stents no better than drugs for many heart patients: U.S. study

Medication vs. stents for heart disease treatment: 2007 study

How to prevent heart disease

Baylor Scott White Heart Disease Calculator

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.