Research suggests controversial test could be leading to unnecessary open heart operations

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, research by our University has suggested.

Since 2012 doctors have been using exercise testing on people with a condition called aortic stenosis (AS) to determine whether they need an operation to save their life.

However, a study, led by Gerry McCann, Professor of Cardiac Imaging and Honorary Consultant Cardiologist from the 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, which involves cycling on a stationary bike, is used to determine whether surgery is needed for people with the condition – but it only has a 60 per cent accuracy rate, the study found.

Professor McCann, who is also a consultant cardiologist from the NIHR Leicester Cardiovascular Biomedical Research Unit (BRU), said: “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.”

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 needed.

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