CHICAGO -- Angioplasties can safely be done on heart attack victims at hospitals that do not have cardiac surgery departments, according to a study that could help make the lifesaving procedure available to many more patients across the country.
Numerous studies have shown that angioplasty -- in which a tiny balloon is used to open a clogged artery -- is the best treatment for heart attacks. But some medical standards and state regulations say doctors should perform angioplasties only at hospitals that have a cardiac surgery unit in case something goes wrong.
The new study challenges that thinking.
The study involved giving three months of angioplasty training to staffers at 11 of these hospitals.
At six weeks and six months after their heart attacks, patients treated with angioplasty had 40 percent lower rates of death, strokes and recurrent heart attacks than those given the clot-dissolving medication Activase. They also had shorter hospital stays, and none had complications requiring surgery.
The angioplasty patients fared about as well as those who undergo the procedure at surgery-ready hospitals.
The findings appear in today's Journal of the American Medical Association.
"It should not be a matter of chance or geography that determines what kind of care a heart attack patient receives," said Dr. Thomas Aversano, a Johns Hopkins Hospital cardiologist who led the study.