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Apr 25, 2012

Are Drug-Eluting Stents as Safe for Women?

Drug-eluting stents may be just as safe and effective in women as in men.

When blood vessels become severely blocked, patients may undergo revascularization with a stent to widen the openings of blocked arteries and improve blood flow. Although drug-eluting stents are relatively new, research has shown that they are extremely effective and equally as safe as bare-metal stents. While both types of stents strengthen the walls of the artery and prevent them from collapsing, drug-eluting stents prevent the build-up of scar tissue in the months and years following the procedure by releasing medication.

However, as is true of most studies, women are consistently underrepresented in research on heart disease, leading many to wonder if findings from predominantly male studies necessarily apply to women. If drug-eluting stents are safe and effective for women, does the same go for women, too?

A study featured in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology's JACC: Cardiovascular Interventions helped get to the bottom of this question. In this study, researchers analyzed data from three separate clinical trials containing two-year follow-up on more than 1,500 male and female heart disease patients—all of whom underwent revascularization with drug-eluting stents.

After analysis, researchers noted some interesting differences between the male and female patients. The women were more likely to be older, obese, and have diabetes and hypertension than their male counterparts. The men were more likely to be smokers, and have had a heart attack and previous surgical revascularization. But despite these differences, there was no significant difference in outcomes, such as re-narrowing of the arteries, thrombosis (blood clots), heart attack and death.

Based on these findings, the use of drug-eluting stents in the treatment of heart disease is just as safe and effective in women as it is in men—which is good news, as stents often offer a long-term solution to blocked arteries. Also, the differences noted between male and female patients in the study highlight the need for better heart disease prevention in women.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Why are women underrepresented in cardiovascular research studies?
  • Since cardiovascular disease was originally thought to be more prevalent in men, most research targeted men as participants. Even now that research has shown that heart disease is not only the number one killer of women and men, and that it actually kills more women each year than men nationwide, many women do not know this. Therefore, the lack of female participation in cardiovascular studies may be largely due to the lack of awareness.  It is also believed that many women, juggling their many responsibilities in life, are often so concerned with taking care of others that they fail to take the time to address their own health needs.
  • What are the most common risks associated with drug-eluting stents?

  • Although drug-eluting stents are generally safe and effective, the most common complications include blood clotting around the stent and re-narrowing of the arteries, called restenosis.


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