A quarter of our very elderly have undiagnosed treatable heart problems, research reveals

July 24, 2012

The very oldest in our society are missing out on simple heart treatments which can prolong and improve their quality of life, Newcastle heart experts say.

Studying a group of people aged 87 to 89 years old, the team of researchers at Newcastle University found that a routine test in the home revealed that around a quarter of them had undiagnosed heart problems which could be treated with established and cost-effective treatments.

In the study, funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), the team visited the homes of 376 people aged 87 to 89 years old and carried out echocardiograms -heart scans- using portable instruments.

Publishing today in Heart, they reveal that around a quarter (26%) of the people involved had a previously undiagnosed heart problem, in particular, impairment of left ventricular systolic function. Affected people's hearts do not contract strongly enough, which can leave them breathless and lead to heart failure. The condition is treatable with established drugs such as and .

BHF Professor Bernard Keavney, a at Newcastle University who led the study, admits to being taken aback at the extent of the problem: "We were surprised to discover just how many older people have heart problems. Many of these people could be treated with drugs that we know work, if their condition were recognised.

"Our research suggests that it might be practical to offer people over 85 who are breathless, an at home which would reveal these problems. Because this heart problem occurs so often at this age, home checks are likely to be cost-effective, whereas they wouldn't be in younger people In those people found to have hearts that were not pumping strongly enough on a home scan, medication could be considered. This would improve their and it's likely to slow their progression to heart failure.

"With heart failure, prevention is definitely a priority. Older patients coming into hospital with worsening is one of the largest sources of expenditure for the NHS. The number of people over 85 is already soaring, and this will continue for the foreseeable future. So anything we can do to improve the heart health of our oldest old is likely to have a big impact."

Taking part in the research were people involved in the Newcastle 85+ study, a unique study of the health of more than one thousand people from Newcastle and North Tyneside born in 1921.

"This is a group of people who are routinely excluded from trials of treatment on the grounds of their age," adds Dr. Joanna Collerton, Senior Clinical Research Associate at Newcastle's Institute for Ageing and Health and the study's co-lead author. "What we have discovered is that very many more people in this age group have heart problems compared to those in younger age groups so we need to think about more inclusive trials or trials focusing exclusively on older groups to ensure that as we face a growing older population we offer them the healthiest future."

Dr Shannon Amoils, Research Advisor at the BHF, said: "This study suggests that there are probably many more very elderly people in the community with than we previously supposed and many have symptoms like breathlessness that limits their daily activities. Despite this, their condition is often not recognised."

This research builds on Newcastle University's work as part of the Newcastle Initiative on Changing Age and the Newcastle institute for Social Renewal. This the University's response to the societal challenges including ageing, seeking new ways to make the most of the extensive opportunities associated with increasing human longevity, while at the same time solving some of the problems.

Explore further: Taking vitamin E does not impact women's heart failure risk

Related Stories

Taking vitamin E does not impact women's heart failure risk

March 20, 2012
Taking vitamin E supplements does not increase or decrease heart failure risk among women, according to a study in Circulation: Heart Failure, an American Heart Association journal.

'Broken heart syndrome' protects the heart from adrenaline overload

June 27, 2012
A condition that temporarily causes heart failure in people who experience severe stress might actually protect the heart from very high levels of adrenaline, according to a new study published in the journal Circulation. ...

Not faster, but longer -- new drug changes beat in treating heart failure

August 19, 2011
A new drug which offers a radically different approach to treating certain types of heart failure has been shown to improve cardiac function in heart failure patients in its first clinical trials.

Recommended for you

Some cancer therapies may provide a new way to treat high blood pressure

November 20, 2017
Drugs designed to halt cancer growth may offer a new way to control high blood pressure (hypertension), say Georgetown University Medical Center investigators. The finding could offer a real advance in hypertension treatment ...

Could this protein protect people against coronary artery disease?

November 17, 2017
The buildup of plaque in the heart's arteries is an unfortunate part of aging. But by studying the genetic makeup of people who maintain clear arteries into old age, researchers led by UNC's Jonathan Schisler, PhD, have identified ...

Raising 'good' cholesterol fails to protect against heart disease

November 16, 2017
Raising so-called 'good' cholesterol by blocking a key protein involved in its metabolism does not protect against heart disease or stroke, according to a large genetic study of 150,000 Chinese adults published in the journal ...

Popular e-cigarette liquid flavorings may change, damage heart muscle cells

November 16, 2017
Chemicals used to make some popular e-cigarette liquid flavorings—including cinnamon, clove, citrus and floral—may cause changes or damage to heart muscle cells, new research indicates.

New model estimates odds of events that trigger sudden cardiac death

November 16, 2017
A new computational model of heart tissue allows researchers to estimate the probability of rare heartbeat irregularities that can cause sudden cardiac death. The model, developed by Mark Walker and colleagues from Johns ...

Possible use for botulinum toxin to treat atrial fibrillation

November 16, 2017
From temporarily softening wrinkles to easing migraines, botulinum toxin has become a versatile medical remedy because of its ability to block nerve signals that can become bothersome or risky.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.