Older donor hearts just as good, University of Alberta study shows

Patients who receive healthy hearts from donors 50 years of age and older appear to fare just as well as patients who receive younger hearts, and that may be good news for potentially expanding a small donor pool, a University of Alberta study has found.

A study published in the March/April 2006 issue Journal of Cardiac Surgery reviewed the outcomes of using heart donors 50 years of age and older and discovered that there were no differences in ICU or post-operative length of hospital stay, days ventilated, or early rejection episodes.

The researchers analyzed 338 cardiac adult transplants performed at the University of Alberta Hospital between 1988 and 2002. Of those, 284 patients received hearts from donors under 50 and 54 received hearts aged 50 and older.

Recipients of the older hearts had a greater risk of death within 30 days of surgery, and pretransplant diabetes also played a significant role in survival, but despite that, long-term outcomes were similar to those of younger donor hearts. Both sets of patients had similar survival rates--at the end of 10 years, the survival rate for older hearts was 58 per cent versus 59 per cent for patients with younger donor hearts.

The research is good news for patients who will need heart transplants, said one of the study's co-authors, Dr. Shaohua Wang of the University of Alberta's Division of Cardiac Surgery. "As the population ages, it can be expected that the number of patients requiring transplantations will also increase."

Currently in North America, about 25 per cent of patients waiting for hearts will die each year due to lack of organs. Criteria for organ donations have traditionally been strict and older age has often been used to exclude potential donors, the study noted.

"If we can expand the donor pool by using older donors, we will be able to save more lives," Dr. Wang said.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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