Study suggests common heart test may harm patients
September 16, 1996
Web posted at: 10:50 p.m. EDT
(CNN) -- A common procedure intended to help save the lives
of critically ill heart patients may actually be putting
thousand of lives at risk, according to new research.
A review of more than 5,000 critically ill heart patients
suggests that, rather than being helped, those treated with
the "right heart catheterization" procedure may be more
likely to die, according to the study published in the
Journal of the American Medical Association.
"If you had a thousand patients, you would have ended up in
our population with about 50 more deaths," said Dr. Joanne
Lynn of George Washington University. "That's a substantial
number, and we should be very concerned about it."
In the test, a catheter entering through the neck allows
doctors to check blood pressures inside a patient's heart.
Such information can help them make crucial decisions about
treatment, but the procedure was never put through the
strictest scientific tests.
Experts estimate that more than a half-million critically ill
patients in the U.S. get the test each year, which could mean
some 30,000 additional deaths. The researchers said it is
not that patients die during testing, but that something
happens later. Further study is called for to pinpoint the
An editorial accompanying the study in the Journal of the
American Medical Association called for either a ban on the
test or an immediate major study by the National Institutes
"The most important thing is that there be a response
quickly. This is used on a lot of people, it needs to be
solved soon," said Dr. Lynn.
Other experts urge caution, saying a ban on the catheter
tests would do more harm than good. While agreeing that
studies should be done, the head of the National Heart Lung
and Blood Institute said others can do them.
"We are not going to change everything today to go and do
this clinical trial." said Dr. Claude Lenfant, of the
Correspondent Andrew Holtz contributed to this report.
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