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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 August 2005, 09:17 GMT 10:17 UK
80-year-olds fit for heart bypass
Image of an elderly woman
Many people aged 80 will have years of life ahead of them
Doctors should not shy away from giving 80-year-olds heart bypass surgery, say experts.

It is a misconception that they are unlikely to survive for long enough for the surgery to be of benefit, doctors from the UK and Canada conclude.

The findings in Heart journal are based on 12,461 patients, 706 of whom were over 80 years of age at the time of surgery.

The octogenarians had half the risk of death of their younger peers.

Seek surgical opinion early
Lead researcher and heart surgeon Mr Samer Nashef

This was despite the elderly patients being far more likely to undergo emergency surgery than younger patients.

Presumably this was because doctors tended to stall and treat them conservatively until crisis arose rather than offering them surgery earlier, suggest the authors.

They found the degree of urgency and the length of the procedure predicted whether a patient was likely to live or die, over and above the traditional protocols used to assess the likely risk of death, such as age and general physical fitness.

Age no barrier

Therefore, if more elderly people had pre-planned surgery earlier, survival might be even higher, said lead researcher and heart surgeon Mr Samer Nashef, from Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, the UK, where the operations took place between 1996 and 2003.

Symptoms of their ill health are all too often dismissed as 'just part of getting old'
Dr Lorna Layward from Help the Aged

"I think the main reason is that when people are in their 80s and are known to have a heart problem that could benefit from surgery, the doctors looking after them are going to be a bit reluctant to send them for an operation because they think when they are old they might not survive.

"But 80 year olds can live a long time. And emergency operations do less well.

"So the main message is if you have an over 80-year-old who has a heart condition that might benefit from surgery, seek surgical opinion early."

He said it was possible that the elderly people in the study who had surgery were generally fitter than some other 80-year-old heart patients who did not have any surgery, which may have skewed the results.

As the population ages and as more people survive heart attacks, there will be an increasing need to consider operating on elderly patients
Dr Charmaine Griffiths from the British Heart Foundation

Dr Lorna Layward, research manager at Help the Aged, said: "We'd like to see more of this approach to treating older people in need of medical intervention.

"Older people are often discriminated against because the symptoms of their ill health are all too often dismissed as 'just part of getting old.'"

Dr Charmaine Griffiths from the British Heart Foundation said: "As the population ages and as more people survive heart attacks, there will be an increasing need to consider operating on elderly patients.

"What this study shows is that, although the elderly are at higher risk of complications than younger patients, they stand to gain considerable benefit."




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