Heart Drugs Could Save Billions Over Stents: Study

A first-of-its-kind study shows that putting hundreds of thousands of American heart patients on drugs instead of giving them a stent could save the country billions of dollars a year.

Heart Stent
Rick Lee
Heart Stent

Researchers report that about $10,000 could be saved up front and approximately $150,000 could be saved over time by prescribing pills for each of the estimated 400,000 people in the U.S. every year who suffer regular chest pain and currently get stents put in to treat it.

Previously, doctors concluded that old-fashioned heart drugs like beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, cholesterol fighters, aspirin and blood pressure medications work just as well, if not better than stents, in patients who have what's called stable angina.

Stents are the tiny, featherweight wire-mesh tubes that prop open clogged arteries. They are a multi-billion dollar segment of the medical device industry served by Abbott Labs , Boston Scientific , Medtronic and Johnson & Johnson .

The study does not apply to people who are having a heart attack or some other acute cardiovascular emergency. Stents are still considered the best treatment in that situation.

The findings are being published in the inaugural issue of a medical journal from the American Heart Association. The Veteran's Administration carried out the study, which was paid for, in part, by several of the companies that make heart drugs.