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Study: High number of patients given angiograms

A troublingly high number of patients who are given angiograms to check for heart disease turn out not to have a significant problem, according to the latest study to suggest Americans get an excess of medical tests.

The researchers said the findings suggest doctors must do better in determining which patients should be subjected to the cost and risks of an angiogram. The test carries a small but real risk, less than 1 percent, of causing a stroke or heart attack, and also entails radiation exposure.

"We can do better. There is no doubt in my mind," said Dr. Ralph Brindis of the University of California, San Francisco, one of the authors of the study, published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Every year in the United States, more than a million people get an angiogram, in which a thin tube is inserted in the arm or groin and threaded up to the heart to check for blocked arteries that could lead to a heart attack. Dye is injected through the tube to make blockages show up on X-rays.

Angiograms are often given to patients who might be having a heart attack or have symptoms that suggest a serious blockage. They are also sometimes done on people who may have some less clear-cut symptoms, like shortness of breath, or no symptoms but some risky traits like high cholesterol and an abnormal result on another heart test.

Dr. Harlan Krumholz, a Yale cardiologist unconnected to the study, said he thinks the problem arises because doctors are afraid of missing something, and also getting sued. - AP

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