Get free help preparing your taxes from AARP Foundation Tax-Aide. Find a location


AARP Staying Sharp: Keep Your Brain Healthy
Bob Dylan Talks!


Military and Veterans Discount


You Could Choose Your Dream Vacation


Introducing RealPad by AARP


AARP Auto Buying Program

Download the ipad App



Piggy bank on the road - AARP Driver Safety

Take the new AARP Smart Driver Course!


AARP Games - Play Now!


Planning for Long-Term Care for Dummies

Get expert advice on planning for your own or a relative’s future care needs.


Learn From the Experts

Sign up now for an upcoming webinar or find materials from a past session.

Learning centers

Get smart strategies for managing health conditions.



Heart Disease


Most Popular


Some Stents Do More Harm Than Good

Billions may be wasted on questionable uses of the devices

En español | Every year doctors place about 1 million stents in patients to open blocked arteries of the heart, according to the Millennium Research Group, a medical technology marketing group.

Unclogging a blocked artery with balloons and stents saves lives when performed during a heart attack, but a growing body of research says it often does no good in nonemergency situations. One landmark 2007 study found that although stents — wire mesh tubes that help prop open arteries — may help relieve severe chest pain, there is no proof that stents are any better than less expensive drugs in preventing heart attacks or death.

Sign up for the AARP Health Newsletter.

Still, doctors continue to perform the balloon procedure, called angioplasty, and to implant stents, at a cost of as much as $12 billion annually, with much of that expense falling on taxpayers. The federal government, through Medicare, paid out $3.5 billion in 2009 alone for cardiac stents — at a time when runaway medical spending is increasing the huge federal deficit.

Numbers like these trouble Rita Redberg, M.D., a professor at the University of California in San Francisco and editor of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Redberg, a frequent critic of wasteful Medicare spending, says doctors should know that drug treatment — including aspirin, statins, beta blockers and ACE inhibitors — is less expensive, has fewer side effects and is just as effective as inserting a stent. But most patients haven't gotten the message.

"We have a culture of medicine where technology is frequently seen to be better than medicines or lower-tech solutions," Redberg says. "People think if you open up an artery, that should be better than taking medicine."

Stent dangers

Costs aside, there are small but real risks associated with having a stent inserted, she points out. These include having a heart attack or having the stent fail and close off the blood vessel. Even with a stent, many patients must also take Plavix and aspirin to thin the blood, and they carry their own costs and complications.

Paul Chan, M.D., a cardiologist at St. Luke's Mid America Heart and Vascular Institute in Kansas City, Mo., led a 15-month review of some 500,000 angioplasties to see whether the procedures followed the guidelines developed by heart specialists.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that 99 percent of more than 355,000 angioplasties performed in acute situations, such as a heart attack or high-risk unstable angina, were clearly beneficial.

Next: Why are stents so popular? >>

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts


Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.

Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Walgreens 1 discount membership aarp

Members get exclusive points offers from Walgreens, Duane Reade and

member benefit aarp hear usa

Members can save 20% on hearing aids with the AARP® Hearing Care Program provided by HearUSA.

AARP membership discount Man trying on eyeglasses at optometrists smiling

Members save up to 60% on eye exams and 30% on glasses at LensCrafters.

Member Benefits

Join or renew today! AARP members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.