Surgery patients are “getting older at a faster rate” – advancing age linked to higher risk of complications

A surgery can save a person’s life from an immediate threat, but it can carry long-term consequences on his health. A recent study in the British Journal of Surgery revealed that people who have gone under the knife have aged faster than those who didn’t undergo surgery.

As a person grows older, his health generally declines. In particular, older adults experience worse outcomes following surgical operations. Further, the general population is aging overall. Older adults make up an increasingly sizable percentage of society, a trend that worries healthcare providers. Researchers from the Queen Mary University of London looked at trends in aging. They evaluated patients undergoing surgery in England’s National Health Service.

The researchers started with information collected by Hospital Episode Statistics and Office for National Statistics on the population of England from 1999 to 2015. After running time trend ecological analysis on the data, they also calculated other factors – the percentage of patients going through surgery in various age groups, the pooled average age, and the shift in age profile.

Finally, they modeled the growth in the population of surgery patients to the year 2030. They also estimated the cost of healthcare for those people. (Related: Drug-resistant bacteria responsible for increased infection rates in surgery patients.)

More patients are getting older by the time they get operated on

The QMUL researchers found that the number of surgery patients aged 75 years or older increased from nearly 545,000 to 1,012,517 during the period. Furthermore, the average age of a patient by the time he went under the knife also rose from 45.5 years to 54.2 years.


Notably, the average age of the population in England — one of the countries that made up the UK — rose from 38.3 years to 39.7 years. The age of the typical surgical patient was higher than the average age of an English citizen. Further, the gap between their ages increased over time. The researchers identified more than 68 million episodes of surgical operation. Male patients made up 45.8 percent of the cases. Their calculations indicated that patients stayed at the hospital for an average duration of 5.3 days.

Finally, based on the aging trends, the researchers predicted that 20 percent of the population aged 75 years and older would undergo surgery every year. Older patients would make up around half of the people who need to go through an operation. The cost of surgeries for these 1.49 million individuals would reach $3.53 billion (€3.2 billion) annually.

Links between advancing age and higher risk of complication, mortality post-surgery

Researchers drew links between age and risk of health complications and death following surgery. The older a surgical patient, the more likely his condition might deteriorate after the operation. A severe complication may lead to his premature death from infections and other surgery-related issues.

“Older people are much more likely to experience complications after surgery but this risk is not always obvious to patients and doctors,” explained QMUL researcher and senior author Rupert Pearse. “As we offer surgery more often to older patients, we may find the complications outweigh the benefits in many cases.”

The QMUL researchers believed that their findings in England also applied to other European countries, which would include the other members of the U.K. They called for more public attention to the benefits and risks of surgical operations for older patients. At some point, a surgery might prove more dangerous to a person that the disease.

In summary, the people undergoing surgery in England aged at a faster rate than the rest of the population. Healthcare providers would find it more difficult and expensive to provide everyone with easy access to surgery, much less a safe medical operation.

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