Bypass surgery tops angioplasty for sickest heart patients

DURHAM, N.C. -- Patients with severe coronary artery disease live longer if they receive coronary artery bypass surgery as their initial treatment instead of artery-opening angioplasty or heart medications, according to a Duke University Medical Center analysis.

Yet up to 40 percent of patients diagnosed with severe coronary disease are treated first with angioplasty or medications and not given the opportunity to receive bypass surgery, the researchers estimate. Bypass surgery is more expensive and more invasive, but has the benefit of increasing patient life span significantly more than the other options, the scientists said.

Bypass surgery involves opening the chest and surgically bypassing blockages in coronary arteries with healthy arteries taken from other parts of the body, most often the legs. Angioplasty involves snaking an expandable balloon through a tube inserted through a blocked coronary artery and then expanding the balloon to push the blockage against the walls of the artery, thereby opening it.

"It may sound very appealing to patients with severe coronary artery disease to get a treatment that is less expensive or less invasive, but they may not be getting the same survival benefit as those patients receiving bypass surgery," said Peter Smith, M.D., chief of cardiothoracic surgery and lead investigator for the study.

"The 40-year history of bypass surgery has shown it to be a durable and reliable treatment for coronary artery disease," Smith said. "It may seem counterintuitive to start a patient on the most invasive treatment option, but our analysis showed that surgery provided significant improvement in longevity for patients with severe disease."

The findings appear in the October 2006 issue of the journal Annals of Thoracic Surgery. The study was supported by the Duke Clinical Research Institute and Duke's Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery.

The researchers retrospectively analyzed the out

Contact: Richard Merritt
Duke University Medical Center

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