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Heart-Lung Machines Used in Bypass Surgeries Are Safe, Study Finds

Update Date: Mar 11, 2013 04:08 PM EDT

Heart-lung machines, which are most often used in keeping the heart manually pumping during surgeries, have been thought to cause severe mental decline in the patients post surgery. A new study presented at the American College of Cardiology conference in San Francisco, CA found that these machines, most often used in bypass surgeries where the heart is stopped by doctors and placed on the machines, are considered to be safe. This discovery will hopefully persuade patients to undergo this method of surgery, which doctors have said allows them to reconstruct the blood vessels more efficiently.

Patients who need bypass surgery to clean out and fix clogged blood vessels have been opting for "off-pump" bypasses due to the fear that the heart-lung machines cause a decline in mental abilities. Doctors purposely stop the heart during bypass surgeries and use heart-lung machines to help keep the blood pumping throughout the body. By stopping the heart, doctors stated that it is easier to connect different blood vessels and make new ones around the clogged vessels. These vessels appear to perform and look better than the vessels from off-pump bypasses. Roughly a fourth of the bypass surgeries today are done off-pump due to the fear of complications from the machine.

The new research findings, however, reassure patients that heat-lung machines are safe, and thus, patients do not have to worry about this option any more. The study followed 4,752 patients throughout 19 nations that were randomly assigned bypass surgeries either with machine or off-pump. The lead researcher, Dr. Andre Lamy from McMaster University in Canada found that there were no large differences between the patients from both groups in terms of death rates, heart attack, stroke, or kidney failure. He did observe that some patients who underwent the off-pump surgery needed a follow-up surgery. However, the follow-up surgery factor was very miniscule. Furthermore, the research team did not find any difference between mental sharpness and quality of life one year after the surgery.

The research team went a step further and geared their study toward a group of patients 75 and older. This study observed the effects of both surgical methods on 2,539 elderly German participants. The results remained consistent a year later.

Therefore, although not all doctors believe that bypass surgery with the use of a machine leads to better blood vessels, at least patients now do not have to feel fearful of this option anymore.

The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine

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