WebMD Health News
Daniel J. DeNoon
Louise Chang, MD
Jan 23, 2008 -- Patients with complex heart disease are less likely to
die or have a heart attack if treated with bypass surgery rather than
angioplasty and stenting.
The finding comes from a comparison of patient outcomes after the two major
types of treatment for blocked heart arteries. Patients received bypass surgery
-- coronary artery bypass grafting or CABG -- or angioplasty with stenting, a nonsurgical
technique in which arteries widened with a balloon catheter are
propped open with mesh devices called stents.
The study looked only at patients who had two or three blocked arteries. It
included all 17,400 patients treated from October 2003 through December 2004
for two or three blocked arteries in New York State.
The bottom line: Long-term outcomes were better after bypass surgery.
Edward L. Hannan, PhD, professor and associate dean for research at the
University at Albany School of Public Health, Rensselaer, N.Y., and colleagues
reported the findings in the Jan. 24 issue of The New England Journal of
But stent expert William O'Neill, MD, professor of medicine and cardiology
at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, remains doubtful that
bypass offers such a large survival advantage over angioplasty.
"You really do have to ask yourself why the doctors in this study chose
one method over the other for these patients," O'Neill tells WebMD.
"This study is not a randomized trial, and even though it has a large
number of patients, it is difficult to remove the possibility of selection
bias. There is a very large, multicenter, randomized clinical trial, the SYNTAX
trial, which will be reported in Europe next summer. I would urge everyone to
wait for those results."
Hannan says randomized trials have biases as well, as patients may not
choose to participate if they fear being assigned to a highly invasive
The current study results are similar to earlier studies in which Hannan and
colleagues compared bypass surgery to angioplasty. But those studies looked
only at bare-metal stents. The current study is the first to compare bypass to
angioplasty using newer drug-eluting stents, which are less likely to clog.
However, drug-eluting stents are more likely than bare-metal stents to cause
blood clots. Patients who get these stents now receive aggressive anticlot
treatment -- treatment that was not routine during the time of the Hannan
This might have biased the results in favor of bypass surgery, notes Joseph
P. Carrozza, MD, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in an editorial
accompanying the study.
Even so, Carrozza says the new results "are a sobering reality check for
those who hoped the benefits of drug elution would level the playing field
between [bypass surgery] and stents for patients with multivessel
Does this mean all patients with multiple blocked arteries should have
bypass surgery? No, Hannan says.
"When we talk about two procedures like angioplasty and bypass surgery,
there is a big difference," Hannan tells WebMD. "In bypass surgery your
chest is sawed open. You spend time in the hospital, and you don't feel well
for a long time. After angioplasty, you go back to work the next day and feel
There are medical reasons, such as dementia, that rule out bypass
surgery for some heart patients. And Hannan notes that while bypass surgery has
better long-term results for many patients, the short-term results are worse
than for angioplasty.
"One reason to choose angioplasty and stenting is if patients just
prefer not to get very aggressive surgery that will discommode them for many
months," he says. "And the short-term adverse-outcome rate for bypass
-- including the in-hospital mortality rate -- that is higher than for
angioplasty. So if you have a strong need to survive for a short period of
time, like a big event you want to be around for, that contraindicates bypass
Hannan says the next step for researchers is to find out whether patients
with particular conditions do better with bypass surgery or with
Because researchers and doctors continue to improve both bypass surgery and
angioplasty, Hannan says there will never be a one-size-fits-all answer to
which technique is best. For this reason, he strongly suggests that patients
discuss all of their options with both an interventional cardiologist and a
Before either bypass surgery or angioplasty, cardiologists use a heart
catheter to look at the conditions of a patient's arteries. Since the catheter
already is in place, some cardiologists may choose to perform an angioplasty at
"I would say you need to consult with a multidisciplinary team,
including a cardiologist and a surgeon, starting with the cardiologist,"
Hannan advises. "When you engage in dialogue with this doctor, be sure that
person is aware of the most recent studies, and that these studies are part of
the decision-making process. But you need to take into account what is the
typical nature of the recovery period, what procedures will be done and when,
and what are the contraindications of each procedure."
O'Neill says that if patients are offered the option of either bypass
surgery or angioplasty, it means that they have an excellent chance of
long-term survival with either procedure.
"Bypass provides more effective long-term relief in multivessel
cases," O'Neill says. "In the Hannan study, 5% of patients who
underwent bypass needed a [a second procedure] compared to 30% of the
angioplasty patients. So if patients don't want to come back, they need a
bypass. If inconvenience, invasive surgery, and length of recuperation come
into play, then patients may prefer angioplasty."
SOURCES:Hannan, E.L. The New England Journal of Medicine, Jan 24, 2008; vol:
358 pp. 331-341.Carrozza, J.P. The New England Journal of Medicine, Jan 24, 2008;
vol: 358 pp. 405-407.Edward L. Hannan PhD, professor and associate dean for research, University
at Albany, State University of New York, Rensselaer, N.Y.William O'Neill, MD, executive dean for clinical affairs and professor of
medicine and cardiology, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
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