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Elderly people and heart failure

Heart failure is common in people of eighty years and older but doctors often fail to recognize the condition. This means that patients don’t get the right treatment. Half of all elderly patients with heart failure die within three years of its onset. This has become clear from the doctoral thesis of clinical geriatrician Irène Oudejans.

Oudejans studied more than two hundred patients of approximately 82 years. These patients visited a geriatric outpatient clinic with complaints of shortness of breath, tiredness and swollen ankles. Nearly half of these patients were found to have heart failure. Doctors often miss heart failure in their diagnosis because they think that the symptoms are associated with general symptoms of old age.

Check list
Based on her results, Oudejans made a check list with which geriatricians can check quickly and accurately whether or not their elderly patients are suffering from heart failure. The risk of heart failure can be determined by symptoms such as lack of appetite, low body weight, age and the blood level of a biomarker called NT-proBNP. An echocardiography, which is an echo of the heart, is not always necessary for diagnosing heart failure.

One considerable problem for these patients is the lack of a good treatment. In her doctoral dissertation, Oudejans shows that drugs for heart failure are tested on patients of approximately 65 years of age but not on patients older than 80. As a result, these drugs either do not work well in older patients or they produce a lot of side effects. Oudejans therefore argues in favor of more focused research into drugs for heart failure in the elderly.

In the Netherlands there are approximately 130,000 elderly with heart failure. Based on the aging population and the strong link between age and the occurrence of heart failure, it is expected that the number of people with this condtion will increase considerably in future years.

Irène Oudejans will obtain her doctorate on May 10, 2012 from UMC Utrecht. She carried out her research at the Meander Medical Center in Amersfoort and the Elkerliek Hospital in Helmond.
14 May 2012