Alert
Close

Think you know AARP? What you don't know about us may surprise you. Discover all the 'Real Possibilities'

HIGHLIGHTS

Open

REAL POSSIBILITIES

AARP Real Possibilities

DRIVER SAFETY

Piggy bank on the road - AARP Driver Safety

Take the new AARP Smart Driver Course!

Contests and
Sweeps

Dream Vacation Sweepstakes

10 weeks. 10 amazing trips. Seize your chance to win!
See official rules. 

CHECK OUT OUR
NEW IPAD APP!

ATM Mobile App for iPhone and Ipad

Enjoy the best of AARP’s award-winning publications

on the go with the new

AARP ePubs iPad App

KEEP BRAIN ACTIVE!

AARP Games - Play Now!

AARP BOOKS

Planning for Long-Term Care for Dummies

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

Webinars

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.

 

Arthritis

Heart Disease

Diabetes

Most Popular

Viewed

Commented

share your thoughts

What does the health care law mean to you? Your story is important. We read and learn from every story and it helps us in our educational efforts. We may even use your comments (with permission) to brief legislators, inspire readers and more. Please share your story with us. Do

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

Processing

Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.

Health Blog

Discounts & Benefits

bring health To Life-Visual MD

AARP bookstore

AARP Bookstore - woman reaches for book on bookshelf

VISIT THE HEALTH SECTION

Find titles on brain health, drug alternatives, nutrition and losing weight. Do