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Thousands of people are getting unnecessary and costly heart surgeries

Posted March 2, 2017

People go to doctors expecting help and to feel much better. They put a lot of trust onto their professionalism, but the truth is that some exams are simply less than perfect and there are no better alternatives. For example, in case of aortic stenosis doctors make patient cycle on a stationary bike to determine if heart surgery is needed. Now scientists from the University of Leicester say that there must be a better way.

During the test aortic stenosis patients are asked to cycle on a bike like this to see if they will lose breath. Image credit: Tom Chapman via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Surgery is not always the best treatment method, it is painful and various complications may occur. Furthermore, surgeries are expensive for the healthcare systems and take patient out of the normal life for quite some time. So it is always better to prescribe surgeries strictly only when they are needed. However, this exercise testing is far from perfect as its accuracy is barely 60 %. Scientists say that it is sending twice as many people on the surgery table as otherwise would be needed and it costs a tremendous amount of money every year.

Doctors have been using this internationally approved test to determine if the patients of aortic stenosis need an operation to save their life since 2012. However, doctors knew that the test is far from perfect, regarding accuracy, but did not know how far off it really is. During the test patients have to partake in vigorous exercise. They are asked to cycle a stationary bike at different speeds for quite some time. The results are determined by how breathless they are after a determined period of time. In other words, those who quickly lose breath are determined to need a surgery.

However, now scientists say that it is just too inaccurate to be trusted. The idea is that surgery is only needed when condition is life threatening and is likely to get worse in the near future. Gerry McCann, leader of the research, said: “Our findings showed that this exercise test, which has been approved by the American Heart Association/American College of Cardiology and the European Society of Cardiology, was highly inaccurate as almost twice the number of people who became breathless during the test did not develop symptoms within a year”. This means that further research is needed.

Scientists say that they want to see if waiting for symptoms to surface is a better option for the patients. Then they want to see if early surgery has any benefits. The ultimate goal is to find the best option for patients to live a normal life with their condition.


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