When the heart pumps blood to the rest of the body, blood flows through the aortic valve. For individuals with aortic stenosis, the aortic valve has become thickened and can’t open as wide. The result is the restriction of the blood flow and a build-up of pressure in the heart. This often leads to symptoms of chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, lightheadedness, fainting or difficulty when exercising. Many patients may also adapt their lifestyle and activities so that their valve disease may go undetected and occur without obvious symptoms. Often, people simply think this is just a normal part of “getting old.”
Unfortunately, aortic stenosis is more than just symptoms. Even with no outward signs of problems, valvular heart disease can strain the heart and cause serious damage. Left untreated, it can lead to heart failure and other complications, including death. About 50 percent of patients with severe, symptomatic aortic stenosis will not survive more than two years.
Since aortic stenosis is a mechanical problem, it requires a mechanical fix and medication alone will not adequately treat the disease. Traditionally, when an individual’s aortic stenosis becomes severe, open-heart surgery is needed. For some individuals surgery was either not an option, considered high surgical risk or patients were considered too old to benefit from surgery. Fortunately, new technologies and techniques have brought us another option.
Individuals who are considered moderate to high risk for surgery now can be evaluated for Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR). Like valve surgery, TAVR also replaces the aortic valve but does so without the need for open-heart surgery. The procedure is minimally invasive and places a new aortic valve into the heart by using a catheter inserted through a small incision in the leg or chest.
For individuals who are deemed appropriate for the TAVR procedure, there are several benefits. The procedure is much lighter on the body, and as a result, individuals typically have shorter hospital stays and quicker recovery times than traditional open-heart surgery. Current research demonstrates that patient outcomes are the same or better for patients who undergo TAVR when compared with traditional open-heart surgery.
If you have been diagnosed with valvular heart disease or have symptoms associated with the disease, it is important to follow-up or be seen by a physician to receive appropriate treatment.
For more information about aortic stenosis and the TAVR procedure, visit stlukes-stl.com/heart-health/heart-valve-clinic.html