COURAGE demolishes the myth of the “widow maker” and the “time bomb” but does not use optimal medical therapy
Posted by Colin Rose on March 26, 2007
For 30 years since the development of a balloon-tipped catheter to dilate coronary arteries, now known as PCI (percutaneous coronary intervention), it has been revealed truth from “experts”, most of whom paid their mortgages by doing PCI’s, that all significant coronary narrowings should be dilated to prevent a heart attack. In spite of overwhelming evidence that heart attacks are caused by rupture or early, unstable, non-obstructive plaques, most cardiologists still believe that heart attacks (sudden complete blockage of a coronary artery) occur at the site of the largest plaques. Patients are shown angiograms and told they have a “widow maker” or are “sitting on a time bomb”. I refused to do angioplasties until there was some proof for this superficial but very lucrative theory. Again, it turns out I was right. Even in patients with major narrowings and symptoms, PCI does not prolong life or prevent heart attacks. Chronic symptoms were slightly more improved in the PCI group but most medically-treated patients had symptom improvement just with pills.
All cardiologists give lip service to the necessity for lifestyle change as the ultimate cure for atherosclerosis, but in this study there was no attempt at lifestyle change. Most patients were overweight or obese, gained weight over the five year study. 20% smoked and did not stop. While the authors claim to using “optimal” medical therapy, they did not even try significantly changing lifestyle, the obvious cause of the patients’ atherosclerosis. No doubt even better results that could have been obtained with just lifestyle change, without pills or PCI, as Dean Ornish showed many years ago.
If you want an explanation for why, except for a feeble attempt to raise HDL by exercise, NO attempt was made to change lifestyle meaningfully before using statins or PCI you need look no further than the source of funding and the disclosure statements of the authors. Those who recieve substantial income from drug dealers are not keen on proving that cost-free lifestyle change alone will do the same or better than expensive drugs.
Now, why has it taken 30 years to finally prove the futility of PCI in patients with stable or stabilized coronary disease? Unlike new drugs, there are no rules and no government agency mandating that surgical procedures have to undergo clinical trials before being done on the general population. Any surgeon can develop some operation that seems superfically rational and he and his colleagues can do many thousands of those operations, costing millions or billions of dollars and risking many lives until someone gets around to actually testing it to see if the outcome is really as advertised.
Doctors profess to want to practice “evidence-based medicine” but when change negatively affects bank accounts habits change very slowly if at all. Angioplasty in stable CAD can always be rationalized by the classic, “my patient is different than those in the controlled trial”. We can predict that angioplasties in patients with stable CAD will not decline significantly until most of those trained in the procedure have retired. The system could save a lot of money by giving each of them $one million and a house in Mexico to retire to.