Common sense says that putting stents into blocked arteries in the brain should help prevent strokes, just like propping open heart arteries cuts heart attacks.
But Medicare asked for a scientific study before it started paying for widespread use of the brain stents. So doctors tested stents versus medical therapy in high-risk patients. After one month, a dramatic answer: in one group, 6 in 100 patients got a stroke, but in the other group, 15 in 100 had strokes.
Problem is that the stent group was the one that had more than double the strokes of the medical treatment group.
The result was so big that doctors pulled the plug on the study, as they could no longer ethically put patients into the stent group.
This is yet another example of how therapies that seem like they should work, based on our knowledge of the body and medicine, turn out not to work. We have a lot left to learn.
In the case of brain arteries, bypass surgery to put in a new artery to go around blockages, also similar to what’s done in the heart, also has failed to prove out in scientific studies.
You can read the new stent study in the New England Journal of Medicine.