The Nation's Health + [Heart scans]

Bypass surgery: Prophylactic bypass surgery?

This question comes up around once a week:

My CT heart scan score is ____. Wouldn't I be better off just getting a bypass (or stent, etc.) and getting it over with? If I know that heart attack is in my future, why not just get it over with?

The most recent source of this question was the wife of a patient. Jack had a heart scan score of 92 in 2005. He made very little effort to correct his causes, permitting pre-diabetic patterns to persist, failed to correct vitamin D, etc. and a repeat heart scan score showed a dramatic rise to 264.

Jack's wife asked whether he should just have a bypass.

There are several problems with this line of reasoning:

1) Bypass surgery does not reduce the long term risk for heart attack.

2) The risk of bypass surgery often outweighs the risk of an asymptomatic heart scan score.

3) Bypass surgery is a temporary "fix," a fancy Band Aid for a disease that progresses after the procedure. One bypass typically prompts another, and another...

4) Bypassing arteries that have vigorous blood flow often causes the bypass graft to not "take" and close within the first few days.

Thankfully, nobody in his right mind has proposed that we perform prophylactic bypass operations.

Of course, hospitals and surgeons would jump at the chance to perform procedures in anybody with some threshhold heart scan score. It would double or triple their business overnight. At $70,000 or more per procedure, they would dance in glee. Of course, you and I would pay for their new burst of wealth by a sharp increase in our health insurance premiums. Not only that, the people who underwent the procedure would not benefit.