Aortic stenosis (AS), which is the narrowing of the aortic heart valve, affects
predominantly older people and affects up to 3% of people
over 75 years of age. Symptoms, such as chest pain, breathlessness and
feeling faint, can take years to develop. However, when they do, it means
the person is seriously ill and could die from heart failure or sudden
The exercise test, which involves cycling on a stationary bike, is
used to determine whether surgery is needed for people with the
‘The exercise test, an approved international test to check whether people need open heart surgery could be sending twice as many people under the knife unnecessarily, at a cost of nearly £75m.
If exercise test participants become breathless, they are
recommended to have valve replacement therapy. About 10,000 aortic valve
replacements are performed every year at a cost of up to £15,000.
Hospital recuperation then takes between seven and 10 days.
However, a study, led by Gerry McCann, Professor of Cardiac Imaging
and Honorary Consultant Cardiologist from the University of Leicester
Department of Cardiovascular Sciences, who conducted the research as
part of a NIHR Fellowship, has shown the current approach is "highly
inaccurate" and if followed may send thousands of patients to surgery
before it is needed.
The exercise test is only has a 60% accuracy rate, the study
Professor McCann, who is also a consultant cardiologist from the
NIHR Leicester Cardiovascular Biomedical Research Unit (BRU), said:
"There is no doubt that valve replacement therapy is highly effective
for patients with symptoms, however there are risks involved. It's a
major operation and there's a one per cent chance of people dying or
having a stroke during or after. There's also the chance they could
develop an infection."
"It can often take six months to recover, but if they survive they
tend to do very well afterwards. However, if we know a patient has AS
and no symptoms and we do nothing there's also a one per cent chance
they will die so there's a fine line between whether we should intervene
"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."
The findings have been published in the world-leading European Heart Journal
, which showcases work often considered in future guidelines.
Professor McCann now wants to conduct further research to find a
more accurate way to determine whether doctors should wait for symptoms
to develop or to intervene beforehand. Ultimately a clinical study
comparing early surgery versus waiting for symptoms to develop is