Half of the 285,000 coronary angioplasty operations carried out in the US in 1990 were probably unnecessary, according to an American study.
Researchers looked at 171 patients at the Lown Cardiovascular Center in Boston who had earlier been recommended to have a coronary angiography. They found that for half of them the operation was not necessary or, in the words of the researchers could be "safely deferred".
"It is a disquieting fact that to date despite hundreds of thousands of angioplasties, not a single properly randomized study supports the superior advantage, if any, of angioplasty as compared with medical therapy, other than some improvement in symptoms or exercise duration," says the study.
Coronary angioplasty was originally expected to replace the older, more invasive (and more expensive) bypass operation.
However, as the study admits: "Both procedures have grown in tandem, neither reducing the frequency of the other. . . Evident over the past decade is the ever lowering threshold for carrying out bypass as well as angioplasty. . . even asymptomatic patients are not exempt." In other words, you have a 50 per cent chance of getting wrongly diagnosed as needing a procedure whose safety and efficacy has never been tested.