In drugs vs. stents debate, another point for meds

More ammo for drugmakers in the ongoing battle of stents vs. pills. A U.S. study found drug therapy works just as well for stable patients with narrowed heart arteries, without the risks and costs of implanting a stent. The study was the first to pit stents directly against modern drug regimens that include aspirin, anti-hypertensives and cholesterol-fighting statins, Reuters reports.

Published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, the meta-analysis looked only at newer studies that compared stents with drugs, rather than including data from balloon angioplasty trials, as earlier analyses did. The researchers found drugs relieved angina--a.k.a. chest pain--only slightly less than stents did, and the pain relief advantage with stents didn't last.

Fewer than half of stable patients who get a stent have been treated with drugs first, Reuters points out. In fact, as the Archives points out in an editorial, more than 1 million stents are placed every year to treat coronary artery disease, despite evidence that drugs work just as well. "In the context of controlling rising health care costs in the United States, this study suggests that up to 76% of patients with stable coronary artery disease could avoid percutaneous coronary intervention (such as stenting) altogether if treated with optimal medical therapy," the researchers wrote.

- read the Reuters news
- check out the piece from The New York Times