Study will work out when best to operate on heart patients

A new £1.3 million research programme is to help doctors better pinpoint when to begin surgery on heart disease sufferers.

Heart disease surgery has to be carefully timed to insure minimim risk of harm to patients

The Edinburgh study will look at how to improve understanding of when hearts start to fail and help medics to decide the best time to perform surgery to minimise in order to minimise 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.

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The research project, 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.

UK death rates from cardiovascular disease have dropped by more than 40 per cent over a decade, according to a new report.

The Edinburgh 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.”