Medically Reviewed by S. Cary Huber, MD
Fact: More than 300,000 people worldwide have heart valve surgery annually. Fact: Valve Replacement and Heart Bypass surgery (or a combination of the two) are the most common procedures in the “elderly.” Fact: More than 30% of the patients having heart valve surgery are over 70. Fact: More than 20% of heart valve surgical patients are over 75 years of age.
Our definition of “elderly” has evolved over the last 25 years. The last generation may have retired at 65. Today’s 65-year-old…or 70…or 75-year-old…may be playing golf, tennis or skiing. The desire to be active, independent and useful often comes face to face with the human body’s limitations. The failure of heart valves is one example.
“We know that age is one risk factor that surgeons consider when evaluating a patient,” says McLeod Cardiothoracic Surgeon Dr. Cary Huber. “But people over 80 are now successfully surviving valve repair and replacement surgery. So, age is not the only factor we consider – especially with improvements in surgical techniques, anesthesia and intensive care.”
Patients with Increased Risk
When considering valve surgery on someone over the age of 75, physicians look closely at other health issues the patient may have other than age, including:
Timing of the surgery is another factor that seems to affect an elderly patient’s success. When patients or their families wait until the condition requires an emergency room admission, the outcomes are not as successful. This is due to some of the preparation the patient undergoes prior to a planned surgery.
Several studies of elderly heart valve surgery patients indicate that it’s these related issues and the overall health of the patient, rather than age itself, that are the most important factors determining a successful outcome.
How Will You Do After Surgery?
“Successful Outcomes” is a medical way of asking: “So, how will I feel and act after the surgery?” From a physical, pain, social, emotional and general health perspective valve surgery patients over age 65 seem to compare favorably (or in some cases better) to those their age, who have not had valve surgery.
As a side note, one study found that older valve patients did better recovering at home than if they were discharged to an acute care facility. The social support of family and friends in a familiar surrounding seemed to make a measurable difference.
Are You Too Old for Heart Valve Surgery?
To answer the question, posed initially – Valve replacement can restore a useful, independent life for elderly patients, who otherwise may become a burden on their family and society. If you or a relative over 65 years of age is experiencing heart valve problems, talk with a cardiothoracic surgeon about your condition and options. Don’t wait until it becomes an emergency.
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Sources: McLeod Health, American Hospital Association, Society of Thoracic Surgery, Hellenic Journal of Cardiology, Canadian Medical Association, Montreal Heart Institute, Society for Cardiovascular Angiography & Interventions, European Society of Cardiology, Annals of Surgery