Stenting for atherosclerotic renal artery stenosis: One poorly designed trial after another

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The role of stenting for atherosclerotic renal artery stenosis is hotly debated among different specialties.1,2 If we may generalize a bit, interventionalists (cardiologists, interventional radiologists, vascular surgeons, and vascular medicine specialists) have been in favor of liberal use of stenting, and nephrologists often favor medical therapy alone. And as with all controversial issues, each group feels rather strongly about its position.

Because few prospective randomized trials have been completed, the management of atherosclerotic renal artery stenosis has been guided by retrospective studies and case series. 3

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In this issue of the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, Dr. James Simon4 provides an excellent overview of the prevalence, natural history, and clinical presentation of atherosclerotic renal artery stenosis. In addition, he does an admirable job of reviewing the available prospective randomized trials and providing editorial commentary about the role of the various specialists in the management of renal artery disease. And while the title of his paper says that it is “time to be less aggressive,” Dr. Simon ultimately comes to the same conclusions that we do5 on the indications for renal artery stenting (see Table 3 of Dr. Simon’s article), which are those of the multidisciplinary 2006 American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association guidelines on the management of peripheral artery disease.3

So what then is all the controversy about? We all agree that prospective randomized trials that provide class I, level A evidence impart the only unbiased scientific information on the best treatment strategy for patients with renal artery disease. The basic controversial issue is the interpretation of these trials. We contend that the three randomized trials of stenting vs medical therapy published so far6–8 (see below) are so seriously flawed that it is impossible to make treatment decisions based on their results.

Since these trials were published in wellrespected journals, their results are often taken as gospel. However, careful review of each of these will reveal the flaws in study design and implementation.


In the Dutch Renal Artery Stenosis Intervention Cooperative (DRASTIC) trial,6 106 patients with renal artery stenosis and hypertension (diastolic blood pressure > 95 mm Hg) despite treatment with two antihypertensive medications were randomly assigned to either renal angioplasty (n = 56) or drug therapy (n = 50).

Authors’ conclusions

“In the treatment of patients with hypertension and renal-artery stenosis, angioplasty has little advantage over antihypertensive-drug therapy.”6

Four serious problems

As we discussed in a letter to the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine on August 10, 2000, this study had four serious problems that invalidate its authors’ conclusions.9

The sample size was insufficient to detect a significant difference between treatment groups. In other words, the chance of a type 2 statistical error is high.

Balloon angioplasty without stenting was used as the method of revascularization. Experts now recognize that stenting is required for renal artery intervention to have a durable result.3,5

Renal artery stenosis was defined as greater than 50% stenosis. This allowed a large number of patients to enter the trial who had hemodynamically and clinically insignificant lesions. Most clinicians believe that stenosis of less than 70% is not hemodynamically important.5,10,11

Twenty-two of the 50 patients randomized to medical therapy crossed over to the angioplasty group because their blood pressure became difficult to control. In other words, 44% of the patients in the medical group underwent angioplasty, an astounding percentage in an intention-to-treat analysis comparing one therapy with another.

Despite these serious flaws, the results of DRASTIC influenced therapy for years after its publication.


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