Opening up arteries to treat stable angina: Just a sham?

A study questioned the benefit of stents for some heart patients. What does this mean for people with chest pain?

Last fall, many news outlets highlighted a study suggesting that a common heart procedure — inserting a stent to open a narrowed heart artery — was no better than a sham procedure (see "Stent vs. sham: A short summary"). But the big picture isn't quite so simple.

For instance, it's worth noting that six weeks prior to undergoing the procedures, all of the 200 people who completed the study were prescribed increasing doses of heart medications. Referred to as optimal medical therapy, this approach is a proven strategy for treating chest pain brought on by physical activity or emotional stress that promptly goes away with rest or nitroglycerin (so-called stable angina).

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