Expensive, risky surgery for periphery artery disease pushed by doctors who ignore better alternatives

Thursday, May 05, 2011 by: S. L. Baker, features writer
Tags: periphery artery disease, surgery, health news

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(NaturalNews) Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a slow and progressive circulation disorder most often affecting arteries in the legs. Atherosclerosis, the same plaques of fat, calcium and other related gunk that clogs up arteries and cause heart attacks usually cause it.

If you have PAD of the legs, you know it can be a miserable condition, causing pain and numbness. You might think the study just announced at the 2011 American Roentgen Ray Society's annual meeting of radiologists, currently underway in Chicago, is reason to rejoice.

After all, the researchers found that a large growth in screening for PAD has resulted in many more surgical procedures, especially angioplasty (which pushes open the plaques using catheters carrying tiny balloons and is often used in conjunction with stents to keep the arteries propped open) to treat the condition. So if PAD is being diagnosed and treated, that must mean progress in treating the disease is being made, right?

That's the first impression you might get from a quick look at the new study. But here's a breaking research story that shows the importance of looking - really looking - at all the facts and not relying on mainstream media's shallow coverage or someone simply rewriting a press release.

The basic facts: the study was performed at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, Rhonde Island, where researchers studied data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Physician/Supplier Procedure Summary Master files over an eight year span from 2000 - 2007. The researchers found that PAD screening has increased dramatically, particularly among cardiologists. Not surprisingly, with more and more PAD being diagnosed, vascular surgery for PAD has skyrocketed.

Because PAD often goes hand-in-hand with coronary and carotid arterial disease and carries the risk of arteries becoming totally stopped up (occluded) and possibly resulting in eventual limb amputation, recognizing PAD and having vascular surgery performed to open up arteries would seem to make sense.

But let's take a closer look at the issue.

Vascular surgical approaches to PAD are not only expensive; they come with a host of potential dangers including the risk of stroke-causing blood clots. And the bottom line is this: the researchers themselves admitted there is no good evidence that the increase in vascular procedures such as angioplasty and stenting work any better than natural lifestyle changes.

That's right. Despite all the pain PAD causes, all the expensive and potentially dangerous treatments that are increasingly being performed as supposedly necessary therapies in order to open up blocked arteries -- plain old exercise and healthy diet can accomplish the same results.

In fact, as NaturalNews has previously reported (, University of Missouri scientists have found that exercise causes the collateral blood vessels to become larger and less likely to contract. That's important because vascular constriction is known to be a problem with PAD. Exercise also makes blood vessels downstream from the blockage become healthier and more efficient.

"There has been a marked increase in volume of non-invasive physiologic testing, particularly within cardiology, a self-referring specialty, and this has been associated with tremendous growth in endovascular therapy for peripheral arterial disease," Tyler Harris, MD, lead author of the study, said in a statement to the media.

"However, non-invasive therapies such as supervised exercise programs have shown equivalent outcomes versus stenting and angioplasty in this population across multiple trials."

He concluded that the growth of the surgical treatments of PAD has occurred "... in the absence of any major advance in the understanding of morbidity and mortality of peripheral arterial disease."

Simply put, countless people are being subjected to expensive surgical interventions for PAD and yet the medical community doesn't even have a clear picture of the disease that's being treated.

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