By Judy Foreman, May 15, 2006
Stents, long famous for their success in propping open clogged arteries in the heart, are now being used in neck arteries in an effort to reduce strokes.
Technical advances have made the stents safer to insert in neck arteries, and some experts now fear that doctors may adopt the procedure -- and patients may clamor for it -- before there is sufficient research to support it.
With carotid stenting, doctors insert a mesh device into a clogged carotid artery in the neck to keep blood flowing to the brain. The stents can be placed in the carotid arteries without general anesthesia.
''The procedure is less invasive and recovery is faster than with endarterectomy," the traditional surgical approach to fixing narrowed arteries, said Dr. Marc Mayberg, executive director of the Seattle Neuroscience Institute, a research center. But he said carotid stenting ''may be overapplied in patients who actually don't need it, who don't need any treatment at all, or who would do well on medications alone."
So far, he said, ''there is little scientific data yet to show that stents are an effective way to prevent strokes, while there is such data for endarterectomy," which involves cutting open the arteries and scraping out fatty debris. Every year, roughly 150,000 Americans undergo this procedure.
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