Harvard Heart Letter

Too old for a stent?

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Ask the Doctor

Q: I recently turned 86 and my angina is getting worse, even though I'm taking several different medications for it. Am I too old to have an angioplasty and a stent?

A: Not necessarily. During an angioplasty, a doctor threads a thin tube into a heart blood vessel and inserts a tiny mesh scaffold (called a stent) to keep the vessel open and restore blood flow. This can often improve chest pain, or angina. However, many studies of angioplasty haven't included large numbers of people over 80. That's primarily because older people tend to have more health problems than their younger counterparts, so including more elderly people in a study could skew the results.

Yet older people often have more severe coronary artery disease. As such, they may have a greater need for a stent and realize more benefit from it. Compared with drug therapy, stents aren't proven to help people live longer in stable angina. But many older people are more interested in quality of life and staying independent than longevity.

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