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Heart Surgery Is Getting Safer for the Old

According to researchers, the risk of undergoing open heart surgery for patients in their mid-eighties and beyond seems to dropping, making the procedure safe and advisable for the elderly.//

According to Dr. Todd Rosengart, an associate professor of surgery at Southeastern University ,open heart surgery, if indicated, is safe and will improve quality of life in these patients," and head of cardiac surgery at Southeastern Healthcare in Illinois.

The researchers reviewed the outcome of 80 patients aged 70 to 80 who had undergone elective open-heart surgery such as coronary artery bypass or valve replacement at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York City between a few years. The researchers followed up with the patients an average of two years later to determine their outcome and whether their condition had been improved by the operation.

The researchers found that all 100 patients survived their operations and half lived another 40 months or longer. "This is not just doing surgery for sake of keeping people alive," Rosengart said. "It's allowing them to have a meaningful existence."

Among the 45 patients available for follow-up interviews, 71% reported major improvements in functioning, such as reductions in shortness of breath. All of the patients and family members contacted said they would recommend the surgery for others in their age group. The researchers also found significant improvements in post-operative death rates compared with surgery that took place a decade ago on patients in this age group.

In addition, the researchers found that the risk of major complications was nearly cut in half, dropping from 24% to 14%. "We've gotten better at knowing who we can get through," Rosengart said. "Technically, we know better how to run the heart lung machine, use the right anesthesia."

Also, he added, today's older patients are benefiting from improved diets and lifestyles. "We're getting better, and I think the patients we're operating on are, too," he noted. "The success of our health care system is that people are living longer, living better."


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