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Study bid to find best time for life-saving heart surgery

Published 28/12/2015

Operating too early can put heart patients at unnecessary risk but intervening too late can mean heart muscle becomes irreversibly damaged
Operating too early can put heart patients at unnecessary risk but intervening too late can mean heart muscle becomes irreversibly damaged

A new £1.3 million study aims to help doctors better pinpoint when to operate on heart disease patients.

The research will look at tracking more effectively when a heart is starting to fail, helping medics decide the best time to perform surgery while minimising the risk to patients' health.

Operating too early can put heart patients at unnecessary risk but intervening too late can mean heart muscle becomes irreversibly damaged.

The Edinburgh study, which will recruit between 200 and 300 patients in Scotland, will focus on patients with the most common form of valve disease, known as aortic stenosis.

The condition is caused by the narrowing of a major valve, which puts heart muscle under pressure and reduces its capacity to pump properly. It can lead to heart failure and sudden death.

Gauging the severity of heart valve disease can pose difficulties, particularly in older patients who may suffer from a number of other health conditions.

The trial will see patients undergo detailed heart scans and blood tests to track the capacity of their heart to pump blood, providing a baseline against which their future heart function can be compared.

Half of the patients will receive early surgery, and the other half will be given treatment later.

By analysing patients' heart function before and after surgery, doctors will determine what impact replacement valves have had. They will also be able to tell at which point the surgery has had the greatest effect.

The project is funded by the Sir Jules Thorn Charitable Trust through its annual Award for Biomedical Research.

Dr Marc Dweck, British Heart Foundation research fellow at Edinburgh University, said: "This type of heart disease is very common and, with an ageing population, we are set for an epidemic. Rates are set to treble by 2050, so it is crucial to develop new interventions now.

"We hope that by optimising the timing of life-saving surgery, we can deliver major reductions in patient illness and death, leading to a step-change in treatment."

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