Without evidence of benefit, an intervention should not be presumed to be beneficial or safe.

- Rogue Medic

Is placebo better than aggressive medical treatment for patients NOT having a heart attack?

Also to be posted on ResearchBlogging.org when they relaunch the site.
 

Is cardiac catheterization placebo better than aggressive medical treatment for patients not having a heart attack?

No.
 

The answer is not really different from before. This should not be surprising for anyone who pays attention to EBM (Evidence-Based Medicine). We should all pay attention to EBM, because it is the best way to find out what works.

Many routine treatments are not beneficial to patients, but are considered to be standards of care. We continue to give these treatments out of unreasonable optimism, a fear of litigation, or fear of criticism for not following orders. The difference between the banality of evil and the banality of incompetence does not appear to be significant in any way that matters.

PCI (Percutaneous Coronary Intervention) treatment does not add any benefit – unless you are having a heart attack.

The placebo group received sham PCI in addition to optimized medical treatment. this did not provide any benefit over actual PCI in addition to optimized medical treatment. The patients in the placebo group received all of the same medications that the patients in the PCI group received.

Why is this news today?

A recent article in The Lancet is encouraging snake oil salesmen and snake oil saleswomen to claim that it shows the miracle healing power of placebos, but this is not true.

Apparently, Big Placebo (the multi-billion dollar alternative medicine industry) is trying to use this to promote their scams (homeopathy, acupuncture, Reiki, naturopathy, prayer, . . . ).

Big Placebo seems to think that this study shows that placebo is better than medical treatment. A placebo is an inactive intervention that is undetectable when compared with the active treatment. The placebo group received the same aggressive medications that the treatment group received.
 

All patients were pretreated with dual antiplatelet therapy. In both groups, the duration of dual antiplatelet therapy was the same and continued until the fial (unblinding) visit. Coronary angiography was done via a radial or femoral arterial approach with auditory isolation achieved by placing over-the-ear headphones playing music on the patient throughout the procedure.[1]

 

What is new about this?

A much larger study a decade ago showed that aggressive medical therapy was as good as PCI and aggressive medical therapy. The difference is the use of sham PCI to create a placebo group for comparison, rather than using a No PCI group for comparison.
 

CONCLUSIONS:
As an initial management strategy in patients with stable coronary artery disease, PCI did not reduce the risk of death, myocardial infarction, or other major cardiovascular events when added to optimal medical therapy.
[2]

 

Compare that with the conclusion (interpretation) of the new paper.
 

INTERPRETATION:
In patients with medically treated angina and severe coronary stenosis, PCI did not increase exercise time by more than the effect of a placebo procedure. The efficacy of invasive procedures can be assessed with a placebo control, as is standard for pharmacotherapy.
[1]

 

The unfortunate outcome is that we will have fewer hospitals providing PCI, so patients with heart attacks (STEMI – ST segment Elevation Myocardial Infarctions) may have to wait longer for emergency PCI, which really does improve outcomes.
 

What other Standards Of Care are NOT supported by valid evidence?

Amiodarone is effective for cardiac arrest, whether unwitnessed, witnessed, or witnessed by EMS.

Kayexalate (Sodium Polystyrene) is a good treatment for hyperkalemia. Anything that causes diarrhea will lower your potassium level, but that does not make it a good treatment, unless you are in an austere environment (in other words – not in a real hospital).

Amiodarone is effective for VT (Ventricular Tachycardia).

Backboards are effective to protect against spinal injury while transporting patients.

Blood-letting is effective for anything except hemochromatosis (and some rare disorders).

More paramedics are better for the patient.

Prehospital intravenous lines save lives.

IV fluid saves lives in hemorrhagic shock.

Oxygen should be given to everyone having a heart attack.

The Golden Hour is important.

Driving fast saves lives. For only some rare conditions, it probably does – and that depends on traffic.

Flying people to the hospital saves lives. Again, for only some rare conditions, it probably does – and that depends on traffic and distance.

Tourniquets are dangerous. As with anything else, if used inappropriately, they are dangerous, but tourniquets save lives.

Prehospital intubation saves lives.

Ventilation in cardiac arrest improves outcomes (other than for respiratory causes of cardiac arrest, which are easy to identify).

Epinephrine improves outcomes in cardiac arrest. It does produce a pulse more often, but at what cost to the long-term survival of the patient and the patient’s brain? PARAMEDIC2 should help us to identify which patients benefit from epinephrine, since it is clear that many patients are harmed by epinephrine in cardiac arrest. If we limit treatment to patients reasonably expected to benefit from the treatment, we can improve long-term survival.

And there are many more.

Footnotes:

[1] Percutaneous coronary intervention in stable angina (ORBITA): a double-blind, randomised controlled trial.
Al-Lamee R, Thompson D, Dehbi HM, Sen S, Tang K, Davies J, Keeble T, Mielewczik M, Kaprielian R, Malik IS, Nijjer SS, Petraco R, Cook C, Ahmad Y, Howard J, Baker C, Sharp A, Gerber R, Talwar S, Assomull R, Mayet J, Wensel R, Collier D, Shun-Shin M, Thom SA, Davies JE, Francis DP; ORBITA investigators.
Lancet. 2017 Nov 1. pii: S0140-6736(17)32714-9. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(17)32714-9. [Epub ahead of print]
PMID: 29103656

[2] Optimal medical therapy with or without PCI for stable coronary disease.
Boden WE, O’Rourke RA, Teo KK, Hartigan PM, Maron DJ, Kostuk WJ, Knudtson M, Dada M, Casperson P, Harris CL, Chaitman BR, Shaw L, Gosselin G, Nawaz S, Title LM, Gau G, Blaustein AS, Booth DC, Bates ER, Spertus JA, Berman DS, Mancini GB, Weintraub WS; COURAGE Trial Research Group.
N Engl J Med. 2007 Apr 12;356(15):1503-16. Epub 2007 Mar 26.
PMID: 17387127

Free Full Text from N Engl J Med.

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