The Medical Procedure That's Making Money But Breaking Hearts

In Featured Article, Heart and Cardiovascular

A brand new study shows just how risky angioplasty is. It’s the largest study of its kind and it reveals that almost one quarter of people who get the procedure still die from heart problems.

This study is not alone in showing that the procedure may be pretty, but not effective. An earlier study showed that it does very little to heal a broken heart.

“Every single study involving angioplasty doesn’t change the prognosis,” says Dr. Steven Nissen. He was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 ‘Most Important People in the World.’ He’s also the former president of the American College of Cardiology.

The real problem isn’t that angioplasty doesn’t do much good, it’s that it’s also pretty risky. Some of the serious side effects include blood clots and even heart attacks.

What’s even worse is that further research shows that over half of the people who get it…don’t even need it.

Just a Short-Term Solution

The new research comes from the American College of Cardiology and was published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine.

It was headed up by Dr. William Weintraub of Christiana Care Health System in Delaware.

The study was the biggest of its kind and looked at 190,000 heart patients who had either opted for surgery or angioplasty.

Dr. Weintraub followed them over four years and found that 21 percent of the people who got angioplasty still died from heart problems.

He says “we were frankly surprised” by the results.

Despite this, plenty of doctors still say angioplasty is safe and effective for the 500,000 people who get the pricey, $20,000 procedure each year.

“You’re not making a mistake if you have angioplasty,” says Dr. Kirk Garratt. He works for Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.

He’s also the spokesman for the Society for Cardiac Angiography and Interventions. (In other words, the doctors who do angioplasties.)

But plenty of other experts disagree with him.

Dr. Nissen says that the procedure just doesn’t work well.

“One third of arteries clog up again in less than six months,” he says.

Dr. Nortin Hadler agrees with him. He studied at Yale and got his MD from Harvard. He’s now a leading member of the American Society of Clinical Investigation.

He says there’s a big problem with the procedure.

“Cleared vessels become blocked again, starting with a blood clot,” he says.

Despite the risks, he says angioplasties are still promoted as “less invasive, although not less expensive” so they can be pushed on “unsuspecting patients.”

How Angioplasty Works

When you opt for angioplasty, you get a balloon inserted into your artery. The balloon gets slowly blown up. Then it’s deflated and switched out for a small metal stent. At that point, the stent should keep your artery open. But studies show that arteries with stents tend to clog back up as quickly as ones without them.

Two More Studies Condemn Angioplasty

Researchers at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri also did a study on angioplasty in 2011. This one was for the American College of Cardiology. The researchers looked at records from more than 1,000 hospitals.

After looking at 500,000 cases, they found that over half of non-emergency angioplasties are done on patients who don’t even have symptoms.

And that’s the important part. If you’re having a heart attack, then an angioplasty may save your life. But they do nothing to prevent death or heart attack  in non-emergencies. The study showed that these people are risking their heart health and paying a small fortune for nothing.

Those findings are also backed up by yet another study. This one was called the “COURAGE Trial.” It was conducted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Doctors looked at 2,000 patients who all had at least one clogged artery.

The patients all took heart drugs and half of them got angioplasties.

The researchers followed them for five years and found that there was no difference between the people just taking drugs and those who also had angioplasty. Having the procedure made no difference in the rate of deaths or heart attacks.

There’s plenty of evidence against angioplasties. But many industry doctors still support them.

Dr. Hadler says there’s a good reason for that. It’s a lucrative part of “interventional cardiology” which he says generates “over $100 billion annually.”

“It’s been the largest source of health-care spending,” he says. “Costs keep spiraling with cardiologists providing fodder for an enormous industry.”

Tackling Heart Health in a New Way

Dr. Hadler says the whole theory behind angioplasty is flawed.

“There is something wrong with the theory that calls for violence to the offending plaque,” he says.

Instead of attacking heart disease, he says you need to strengthen your heart.

That means looking for gentle ways to heal it.

He thinks the safest way to do this is through a healthy diet. It won’t cost you lots of money and it’s totally safe.

He says if you care about your heart, you’ll change the way you eat.

The first thing you should think about is cutting inflammation and toxins. So make sure your diet is rich in omega-3 and low in omega-6 fats.

Omega-3 fatty acids are natural anti-inflammatory agents. Many credible studies show it can reduce heart attack risk.

There are plenty of ways to get it, but one of the very best sources is wild-caught Alaskan salmon. All salmon has plenty of omega-3 fats, but research shows that the wild-caught type has a much healthier ratio of omega 3 to omega 6. Not to mention fewer toxins.

Now, while you need some omega-6 fat, you should be getting a lot less of it in your diet compared to how much omega-3 fat you take in.

So you should avoid vegetable oils and processed foods. That’s because they contain lots of omega-6 fatty acids.

You can also reverse inflammation by taking a couple of simple steps.

You should kick up the amount of antioxidants you take in. Colorful fruits like strawberries and blueberries are chock full of antioxidants. Plus studies show that veggies like broccoli, kale and peppers are also great antioxidant sources.

Wishing you good health,

Ian Robinson

Editorial Director, NHD “Health Watch”