Heart problems run wide and deep in my family.
In fact, quite a few of my family members have been through a procedure you’ve probably heard of (or may have even had yourself).
It’s called percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), but you may know it also as angioplasty with stent. It’s performed when you don’t have enough blood flow to your heart because your arteries have become narrowed or blocked due to clots or plaque buildup.
So, your doctor takes you into a cath lab at the hospital and threads a thin catheter up your leg and to the problematic artery to place a tiny mesh cage that props open the blood vessel so the blood can flow properly.
It sounds like a miracle of modern science, right?
But you need to know that evidence is piling up that this procedure and others are not only riskier than thought, but they’re also not the miracles you might think they are…
While there’s no doubt that stents can and have saved lives — especially during an actual heart attack — they come with a very real danger…
It turns out patients who get a coronary stent end up with an increased risk of cardiac complications during and after other types of surgeries — even ones that are not heart-related.
This is especially true if they have surgery soon after a PCI procedure and why surgeons are supposed to warn them against any surgery (unless emergency) for at least one year following the PCI.
But out of 221,000 patients who received a cardiac stent, 3.5 percent of them went back for a non-cardiac surgery within the six-month time frame (41 percent of which were elective).
According to Dr. Nathaniel Smilowitz of NYU School of Medicine, “Non-cardiac surgeries early after placement of a coronary stent were associated with poor outcomes, and with an 8% risk of heart attack or death during the hospital stay.”
The reason surgery following a cardiac stent is so dangerous often comes down to the blood thinners patients have to take. When these medications are stopped prior to the second surgery to prevent bleeding, inflammation in the blood vessels can rise, resulting in clots inside the stent and causing a heart attack.
How necessary are these procedures?
Despite this danger, I want to reiterate that some procedures like stents and bypass surgery are necessary during a cardiac emergency.
But even more data recently came out that questions the benefit of these procedures for people with stable heart disease. That includes about 17 million Americans who have clogged arteries and experience chest pain that could possibly lead to a heart attack, though the risk is considered to be low.
People in this group are often advised to have invasive procedures as a “preventative” to avoid a heart attack. In some cases, merely to relieve chest pain. But is it a good idea? See for yourself…
In a $100 million dollar study approved by the U.S. government, doctors tracked study participants for major heart events like heart attacks, heart-related deaths, cardiac arrest or hospitalization for worsening chest pain or heart failure.
After the first year, 7 percent of the people who received heart procedures experienced one of those events. But only 5 percent of people in the drug/lifestyle treatment group did.
After four years, however, the tables turned. Thirteen percent of people who got procedures experienced serious heart events and 15 percent of people in the drugs/lifestyle group did. Basically, it became a wash. The risk evened out, and researchers went away with a clear message…
Heart procedures don’t seem to help people with stable heart disease avoid heart attacks more than drugs and lifestyle changes do.
Discuss options with your doctor and be proactive
This science clearly shows that heart surgery isn’t all that. So, more doctors may be less enthusiastic about sending patients to surgery or the cath lab for prevention and more likely to suggest less invasive treatments.
What’s important is to find a doctor you trust if you have heart disease. Then get serious about those lifestyle habits that can help instead of hoping that modern medical science can fix things after vessel damage has occurred…
#1 — Eat heart-healthy
Heart doctors know your diet plays a big role in how healthy your heart is and whether or not your arteries remain clear to allow blood to flow freely.
Foods to add include good fats such as avocadoes, olive oil, nuts and fish and soluble fiber like lentils, oats, beans and lots of fresh veggies. Ones to cut include sugars and trans fats (think cookies and snack cakes).
One diet secret to better blood flow is to eat beets or add beetroot to your daily routine since it helps to increase nitric oxide production to widen arteries.
#2 — Get moving
Most heart doctors agree that exercise is a part of any heart-healthy plan. Shoot for at least 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week or more.
If you’re normally not physically active, simply remember to start slowly and work your way up since any exercise is better than none.
#3 — Lose weight
Being overweight is associated with higher cholesterol and blood pressure. Diet and exercise should help you maintain a healthier weight.
#4 — Consider supplements that support heart health
Many of the medications doctors prescribe to support heart health (like statins) unfortunately deplete one very important heart-protective nutrient — CoQ10. In fact, it’s so important for healthy heart muscle function, that most doctors will advise their patients to supplement it.
Clearly, modern medical science has saved a lot of lives. But it’s not without its own risks, especially when we’re talking about heart surgery. Do your part to keep your heart happy.