Watch CBSN Live

Treating Clogs After Surgery

When it comes to treating heart disease, a new breakthrough device is proving to be a great way to help doctors perfect the art of re-opening clogged arteries, and keeping them open.

Medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay explains on The Early Show that hundreds of thousands of people each year in the United States undergo a life-saving angioplasty to open up arteries that become clogged due to heart disease.

Angioplasty involves threading a balloon catheter into the clogged heart artery, inflating the balloon to unblock it and then placing a stent, or a wire mesh tube to hold the artery open. The problem, Senay explains, is that scar tissue often forms around that stent — creating another blockage.

A solution to that problem may be a new drug-coated stent, which slowly releases a drug called rapamycin. It prevents scar tissue from reforming and thus has largely made the problem of re-blockage a thing of the past.

Experts are calling these stents a breakthrough technology. Senay says there is no question that the drug-coated stent keeps arteries from re-clogging.

Studies are ongoing to see how long the effect lasts and to see how many different kinds of heart patients might benefit. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine shows effectiveness for a nine-month follow-up. Some doctors have been following patients with drug-coated stent for as long as four years with good results.

Since the FDA approved drug-coated stents this past April, the majority of people who get treated for chest pain with an angioplasty are now receiving them. It is the new standard of care for angioplasty patients.

Senay says the new stents will benefit heart patients who don't have to undergo a repeat angioplasty when arteries re-block, and also hopefully avoid or at least delay much more invasive bypass surgery. In the future, the cost savings to the health care system are potentially huge if there are fewer angioplasties and surgeries.

The stents may be expensive for some — about $3,000 each. But most private insurance companies have agreed to pay for the stents, but you should check with your provider. Medicare reimbursement for most of the cost is also in place. It was approved by Medicare even before the FDA approval. Medicaid coverage varies from state to state.