Exercise & tailored drug therapy may relieve chest pain without angioplasty

Published: May, 2004

BOSTON , MA . - The artery-opening procedure known as angioplasty is a quick fix for chest pain brought on by exercise (angina). But it isn't necessarily the best approach, according to the June issue of the Harvard Heart Letter . A safer, cheaper, and all-around better way to ease mild to moderate angina is plenty of exercise and the right combination of drugs. This treatment won't work immediately. But it makes all of the blood vessels healthier and strengthens muscles and lungs. This approach also translates into lower risks of heart attack, stroke, and premature death, benefits that don't come with angioplasty.

Angioplasty uses a balloon to open narrowed or cholesterol-clogged arteries. More often than not, a tiny wire-mesh cage called a stent is also used to prop open the artery. Angioplasty saves lives when it is used to open a blocked coronary artery in someone having a heart attack. But for people with stable angina, angioplasty relieves chest pain but does little to prevent the possibility of a future heart attack or stroke. What's more, the procedure carries small but real risks — it triggers minor heart attacks in about 4 in 100 people and about 1 in 100 die from angioplasty-related complications. Exercise and drug therapy don't have these risks, yet they help ease chest pain, improve heart and blood vessel function, protect against future cardiovascular trouble, and have benefits beyond the heart, blood vessels, and lungs.

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