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Are artery-opening stents for chest pain waste of time?

Staff Writer |
With findings that some experts believe could change cardiovascular care, a new study suggests that the placebo effect of stents in heart patients with chest pain may be far more pronounced than thought.

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That could mean that drug therapy alone, rather than the pricey, artery-opening devices, is all that's needed for certain patients, the researchers said.

"The most important reason we give patients a stent is to unblock an artery when they are having a heart attack.

"However, we also place stents into patients who are getting pain only on exertion caused by narrowed, but not blocked, arteries. It's this second group that we studied," explained lead author Rasha Al-Lamee, from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London.

The study included 200 patients with stable angina who received six weeks of intensive drug treatment for their angina. After that, they either received a stent or underwent a simulated procedure where no stent was implanted.

Patients who received stents did not have more improvements in angina or quality of life than those who did not receive a stent. Angina is the medical term for chest pain. It is typically caused by the build-up of fatty plaques in the arteries.

Stents aren't cheap, either: The devices and their insertion them costs from $11,000 to $41,000 at hospitals in the United States.

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