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Study addresses heart attack treatment


New research suggests that more people survive major heart attacks with fewer problems if doctors use a mini-vacuum to clear out an artery blockage instead of pushing it aside to restore blood flow.

The Dutch study is the largest to date to show that suctioning out the clot before implanting a stent has big benefits, and could lead to wider use in heart attack treatment. Previous smaller studies of various devices had mixed results.

Most heart attacks occur when a buildup of plaque in a coronary artery ruptures, and a blood clot forms, blocking the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart. The preferred treatment is an angioplasty to quickly reopen the artery.

Doctors snake a tube through a blood vessel to the blocked artery and use a small balloon to compress the blockage and restore blood flow. A tiny metalmesh stent is put in place to keep the artery open.

But sometimes the procedure causes bits of the clot or plaque to break off and plug the tinier vessels, restricting blood flow to the heart, said Dr. Felix Zijlstra, who led the study at University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands.

The artery is open “but still the blood doesn’t go where you want it to go,” he said.

They tried a different approach, suctioning the clot out before inserting the stent, and found that reduced debris and improved blood flow. The results are published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

For the study, doctors enrolled 1,071 patients who came to the hospital in 2005 or 2006 with a major heart attack and needed emergency angioplasty. Half received the conventional procedure; the other half had the blood clot suctioned out. Doctors threaded a small tube to the blockage and sucked out the clot with a syringe before putting in a stent.

“In daily practice, we say that we use the vacuum cleaner,” said Zijlstra.

The heart attack was stopped in its tracks in 57 percent of the vacuum group and 44 percent of those getting regular care.

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