Imagine finding out that the expensive and risky surgery that your beloved elder has just endured wasn't necessary and doesn't ensure for them a greater chance of long-term survival than a much less hazardous form of treatment.
According to two recent studies, this is the reality for many people who receive bypass surgery to overcome blocked arteries and increase blood flow to the heart.
Bypass surgery has become a staple of heart disease treatments ever since its discovery in the 1960s. By grafting veins from other parts of a person's body onto a blocked coronary artery, a cardiac surgeon performing a bypass is able to re-route the flow of blood around a blockage, effectively "bypassing" the obstruction.
Though simple in theory, this is a complicated and risky procedure that involves the opening of the chest cavity and, in some cases the temporary stopping of the heart so that it can be operated on. These extreme measures render the person who is having surgery susceptible to a number of undesirable side-effects.
These side effects include the potential for significant cognitive impairment due to irreversible brain damage. Brain damage has been found to occur in a good portion of bypass patients as a result of this procedure.
Two different groups of researchers wanted to figure out whether the risks of bypass surgery outweighed the gains—specifically whether or not this form of surgery was the most effective treatment for prolonging a person's life and preventing repeat cardiac events.
The results were shocking.
In one study, when compared to common medicinal treatments for heart disease, bypass surgery was found to be no more effective at preventing future heart attacks or giving people longer to live.
In fact, during the first two years of the study, those people given bypass surgery had a greater mortality rate than those who just took medication for their condition.
A second study compared bypass surgery to balloon angioplasty, a much less invasive treatment for cardiac disease, to determine which was more effective at treating heart disease. As before, bypass surgery was found to be no more effective at preventing future cardiac problems or extending the life of the individual receiving the surgery.
There is risk inherent in every type of surgery. The decision to undergo surgery of any kind is one that should not be taken lightly, especially for an elder as they are more prone to having complications as a result of a procedure. However, studies like these two can help make the determination of whether or not to go with surgery as a treatment option a little bit easier.
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