Study: Drugs may do as well as an angioplasty

In many cases, people with chronic chest pain who aren't at great risk for a heart attack may do much better with drug treatment than an angioplasty, according to a new study. Angioplasty is still the top treatment for people who have a heart attack or are hospitalized with worsening symptoms, but about one-third of angioplasties are done on people who aren't in immediate danger to relieve chest pain. However, these patients are no more likely to die or have a heart attack if treated with drugs alone, researchers concluded.

The study, which appears in the New England Journal of Medicine, finds that the slight lead an angioplasty has over drug treatment at relieving pain in nonemergency cases fades within six months. What's more, within three years, that advantage disappears completely, according to the heart study, which contradicts earlier projects that the lead provided by an angioplasty lasted five years. The study, whose conclusions come from patient self-reports on how they fared after treatment, did note that patients with more severe chest pain recovered better with an angioplasty.

To learn more about the study:
- read this San Francisco Chronicle piece