Angioplasties—procedures to open blocked arteries—have been successful about 10 percent more often in recent years than they were in the mid-1980s, and patients treated a few years ago were about 40 percent less likely to need later angioplasty or surgery than were patients a dozen years earlier.
Using national registries, David O. Williams of Brown University in Providence, R.I., and his colleagues compared records for 1,559 people who underwent angioplasty in 1997 or 1998 with the outcomes of 2,431 people getting similar treatment in 1985 or 1986. Angioplasty, in which a surgeon threads a small balloon through a person's arteries and then inflates it, was the only procedure used on the 1985-1986 patients. It successfully opened the blocked arteries 82 percent of the time.
By 1997, cardiologists were regularly inserting mesh tubes called stents into patients' arteries to hold them open after angioplasty (SN: 1/27/01, p. 54). They less frequently used other