Faster angioplasty for most heart attack victims: Study

According to a new study more than 90% of patients who have a heart attack and need an emergency treatment like angioplasty now have it within the recommended 90 minutes after they get to the hospital.

Some patients get the treatment even more quickly, says researcher Harlan M. Krumholz, the Harold H. Hines Jr. Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology and Public Health at Yale University School of Medicine. In a national analysis, his team looked at how quickly the treatment, angioplasty, was done in 2010, compared to 2005. “The median time (half longer, half less) went from 96 minutes to 64…I think it's breathtaking,” he said.

In 2005, 44% of heart attack patients who needed angioplasty were treated within the 90-minute window. In 2010, 91% were, the researchers found.

“This is outstanding news,” says P.K. Shah, director of cardiology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was not involved in the study but reviewed the findings. The study is published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Angioplasty usually involves opening up of a blocked artery. The doctor passes a thin balloon-tipped tube into the vessel. The balloon is inflated, restoring blood flow, and then withdrawn. In some cases, a stent will be put in to keep the vessel open. Even though doctors knew speed was important, only one-third of patients who needed angioplasty got it within 90 minutes in 2002. Some had to wait more than two hours after getting to the hospital. That triggered the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to begin reporting publicly the percentage of patients who were treated within the recommended window. Soon after, national efforts were launched by organizations, including the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association, to improve treatment times. Doctors call the window the “door-to-balloon time.”

Krumholz and his colleagues analyzed nationwide hospital data collected by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. It includes more than 300,000 patients. They had emergency angioplasty from Jan. 1, 2005, through Sept. 30, 2010, including some not covered by Medicare.

Every year, nearly 250,000 people in the U.S. have the type of heart attack that blocks part of the blood supply to the heart and requires angioplasty, according to the American Heart Association. In 2010, 70% of the patients were treated in less than 75 minutes. In 2005, only 27% were. A time window of 60 minutes may become the new standard, the researchers say.

Mike Valentine, a cardiologist at Centra hospital in Lynchburg, Va., said patients with heart attacks there get angioplasty in an average of 43 minutes. Several years ago, the door-to-balloon time was about 80 minutes. “Our times are excellent, but we try to never be satisfied,” Valentine said. “We're constantly trying to improve those times and get that care to our patients faster.”

“Many said that this level of improvement was impossible to achieve,” Krumholz said. “This is an opportunity to reflect on our achievement and to recognize that, when we identify quality issues and problems in our healthcare system, we can work as a community to generate new knowledge, apply it to practice and improve care for patients.”

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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