NYT: Critics blast carotid stent overuse

Critics are slamming carotid stents once again. A New York Times blog reports that experts are blasting their overuse by patients who don't show any stroke symptoms.

Physician critics want greater use of prescription drugs to address factors such as blood pressure and cholesterol for patients without any stroke symptoms, the article notes, rather than stent or surgical procedures that could increase the risk of heart attack or, well, stroke. (The irony is not lost on the blog writer). Their excessive use, the article argues, adds billions of dollars in additional health care costs each year.

Dr. Michael Belkin, chief of vascular and endovascular surgery at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, told the NYT that stent manufacturers are pressuring surgeons to use the stents more often. Another vascular surgeon--Dr. Frank J. Veith, who is with New York University and the Cleveland Clinic--is quoted as saying that carotid stents in patients with no stroke symptoms amounts to "a moneymaking free-for-all" that doesn't consider crucial differences between arteries that feed the heart and the more numerous ones connected to the brain.

The blog follows news last month that 38 leading vascular physicians sent a letter to Medicare urging the agency not to expand coverage for carotid stents, arguing that prescription drugs are as good, if not better, at preventing strokes.

- read the NYT blog (subs. req)