Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Coláiste Ríoga na Máinleá in Éirinn

RCSI research in patients with heart stents discovers why withdrawal of medication can lead to heart attack

23 March 2011
New research from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) has discovered why people with heart stents can suffer heart attacks when medication is withdrawn after one year.  The research was carried out in Beaumont Hospital and recently published in the Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis.



Current prescribing guidelines recommend that patients with heart stents are given aspirin and a drug called Plavix once a heart stent has been inserted in order to prevent platelets in the blood from sticking together and forming clots, which cause heart attacks and strokes. After one year of taking these drugs, patients are recommended, following consultation with their cardiologist to discontinue medication.

A heart stent is a tube placed in the coronary arteries that supply the heart, to keep the arteries open in the treatment of heart disease. Antiplatelet therapy is given to patients with heart stents in order to prevent the formation of blood clots and to stop platelets (blood cells) clumping together causing a heart attack or stroke.

Professor Dermot Kenny, lead researcher and Professor of Cardiovascular Biology, RCSI said ‘Our findings show that when a patient is taken off the medication, there is a change in the platelet activity within a patient. Our research suggests that patients should be weaned off these drugs over time rather than have it stopped abruptly as is done now, in order to prevent the increased risk of heart attack. Although the risk of heart attack is small, it is recommended patients discuss their medication with their cardiologist before stopping treatment.'

Cardiovascular disease is the most common cause of death in Ireland, accounting for 36% of all deaths (1). Approximately 10,000 people die each year from cardiovascular disease in Ireland - including coronary heart disease, stroke and other circulatory diseases (1). The largest number of these deaths relate to coronary heart disease - mainly heart attack - at 5,000 (1). 22% of premature deaths (under age 65) are from cardiovascular disease (1). In Beaumont Hospital alone over 500 stents are placed in patients every year for cardiovascular disease (2).

The study, published in the Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis has an overall impact factor of 6.1. Professor Dermot Kenny, Professor of Cardiovascular Biology in RCSI was the principle investigator in the study.  Professor David Foley, Consultant Cardiologist in Beaumont Hospital was also involved in the study.