April 21, 2006 -- An older heart may be just as good as a young one for people in need of a heart transplant.
A new study suggests that people who receive healthy hearts from donors over age 50 fare as well as those who receive hearts from younger donors in the long term.
Researchers say criteria for organ donations are strict and older age has often been used to exclude potential donors.
But the results of this study suggest that age of the donor isn't a major factor in heart transplant success, which may be good news for people waiting for a donor heart to become available.
According to researchers, nearly 25% of people waiting for a heart transplant die each year due to a lack of available donor hearts.
"If we can expand the donor pool by using older donors, we will be able to save more lives," says researcher Shaohua Wang, MD, of the University of Alberta's division of cardiac surgery, in a news release.
Older Hearts Work as Well as Younger Ones
In the study, published in the Journal of Cardiac Surgery, researchers compared the results of using hearts from older donors in 338 heart transplants performed at the University of Alberta Hospital from 1988 to 2002.
Of these, 284 people received hearts from donors under age 50 and the others received hearts from donors aged 50 and over.
Researchers found recipients of older donor hearts had a higher (17% vs. 7%) risk of death within 30 days after heart transplant.
However, the results showed both groups had similar long-term outcomes. The survival rate at 10 years for people who received older hearts was 58% vs. 59% among those who received hearts from younger donors.
In addition, there were no differences in length of time spent in the intensive care unit (ICU) or postsurgery recovery, days using a ventilator to assist breathing, or early organ rejection episodes.