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Invasive heart tests used too often, study says

2010-03-12 08:59 BJT

BEIJING, March 11 (Xinhuanet) -- A new study suggests many people in the U.S. are given angiograms to check for heart disease which later turn out to be unnecessary.

Researchers say that doctors should make a better evaluation as to which patients need such tests in order to cut both costs and risks to the patient. An angiogram carries a small but real risk, less than 1 percent, of causing a stroke or heart attack, and also entails radiation exposure.

"We can do better. There is no doubt in my mind," said Dr. Ralph Brindis of the University of California, San Francisco, one of the study's authors.

Every year in the United States, more than a million people receive an angiogram, in which a thin tube is inserted in the arm or groin and threaded up to the heart to check for blocked arteries that could lead to a heart attack. Dye is injected through the tube to make blockages show up on X-rays.

Angiograms are often given to patients who might be experiencing a heart attack or have symptoms that suggest a serious blockage. They are sometimes given to people who may have some less clear-cut symptoms, like shortness of breath, or no symptoms but some risky traits like high cholesterol and an abnormal result on another heart test.

This group accounts for about 20 to 30 percent of angiogram cases. But the study showed that nearly two-thirds of the patients in this second group were found to have no serious blockages.

Cost is also a concern. On average, Medicare pays about 1,400 U.S. dollars for an outpatient angiogram and about 3,000 dollars for the procedure to be carried out in a hospital. Researchers said more study is needed to sort out how to better select patients for an angiogram.

For now, experts suggest patients in the category studied by the researchers question their doctors about the need for the test and the risks and alternatives.

Editor: Zheng Limin | Source: Xinhua