BACKGROUND: Although increasing age has been associated with greater risk of mortality for patients undergoing mitral valve replacement, it is less clear whether this elevated risk is related to age-related differences in comorbidity or other clinical characteristics. METHODS: A population of 31,688 patients from The Society of Thoracic Surgeons National Cardiac Database undergoing mitral valve replacement either alone or in combination with coronary artery bypass grafting or tricuspid surgical procedures from 1997 to 2000 was examined to assess age-related variation in clinical features, morbidity, and mortality. Multivariable logistic regression was used to determine the effect of age after adjusting for other known risk factors. A classification tree was used to identify low-risk elderly (> or = 75 years) patients. RESULTS: Operative mortality increased four-fold from 4.1% in patients aged less than 50 years up to 17.0% in patients aged 80 years or more. Similarly, major operative complications (stroke, prolonged ventilation, reoperation for bleeding, renal failure, and sternal infection) also increased with age, rising from 13.5% (age < 50 years) to 35.5% (age > or = 80 years). Multivariable adjustment attenuated the odds of operative mortality, but age remained a significant risk factor. After adjusting for other patient risk factors, age accounted for 13% and 10% of the explainable risk for mortality and morbidity, respectively. Among the elderly, four variables (hemodynamic instability, New York Heart Association class IV, renal failure, and concomitant coronary artery bypass grafting) were identified to distinguish levels of risk, from operative mortality rates exceeding 31% to those with 7.7% mortality. CONCLUSIONS: Operative mortality and morbidity rise with increasing age of patients undergoing mitral valve replacement. Although this excess risk is partially a result of increased comorbid burden and other operative factors, age remains an independent powerful risk factor for operative risk for mitral valve replacement. Understanding the relationship of age with other risk factors for mitral valve replacement can help stratify risk, enabling physicians to identify lower risk patients.
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