Harvard Heart Letter

Is angioplasty right for you?

Survey finds you may not have been told about other options.

When fatty plaques threaten to obstruct the coronary arteries, three treatment options are available: medications to control symptoms; a procedure to open the blockages with a balloon (angioplasty), usually followed by the placement of a stent, a cylindrical metal scaffold that holds the vessel open; or surgery to bypass the blockages (coronary artery bypass grafting, or CABG). Each treatment has benefits and risks, and may be more appropriate for some individuals than for others.

But if you and your doctor make the decision to undergo elective angioplasty and stenting, there's a good chance you will not be told about the other treatment options. A national survey of Medicare beneficiaries conducted by leading medical centers, including Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, found that only 10% of people who underwent stenting were given other options to consider, and only 16% were asked about their treatment preferences. Although 77% discussed the reasons for angioplasty with their doctors, only 19% were told about the potential drawbacks of the procedure.

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