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Drug-eluting stents are better than bare-metal, research shows

September 24, 2008 |  3:55 pm

Stent1Stents are often inserted in a heart vessel to keep the vessel propped open and allow blood to flow freely. In recent years, stents coated with medications have been used to try to increase the device's effectiveness by keeping the artery from becoming clogged again. Some studies have cast doubt on whether drug-eluting stents are better than bare-metal stents. Today, the longest-running and largest study to address stents in people who have just had a heart attack was published. And the winner is ... drug-eluting stents.

Researchers from Harvard and Brigham and Women's Hospital followed more than 7,000 people who were treated with a stent for a heart attack. Each drug-eluting stent patient was matched with a bare-metal stent patient and followed for two years. Overall, death rates were 2% lower during this time for patients with drug-eluting stents. The death rate was 3.1% lower for patients who had an acute heart attack and received a drug-eluting stent compared with those who received a bare-metal stent for the same kind of heart attack. In addition, the rate of repeat stenting were lower among people who received a drug-eluting stent. The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"Heart attacks are a life-threatening condition where physicians need to decide quickly what the best way is to open the blocked artery," said lead author Laura Mauri, an interventional cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital. "We conducted this study to understand whether drug-eluting stents are safe in this situation. It is very reassuring that drug-eluting stents were actually associated with better survival and fewer repeat procedures."

Patients who receive stents also need to take medications that prevent clotting, she noted. And the choice of stent still requires careful consideration of each individual patient's condition.

For more information on stents see this Web page from the Food and Drug Administration.

- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Associated Press / Boston Scientific