Aortic valve replacement (AVR) through open-heart surgery is the gold standard and the most common treatment of severe aortic stenosis and has consistently produced excellent results in lengthening patients’ lives and improving quality of life. Surgical AVR is recommended for almost all adult patients who do not have other serious medical conditions.
If a cardiac surgeon determines you are at high risk or too sick for open-heart surgery, and if medicine is not helping you feel better, transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) may be a treatment option. TAVR is a new procedure that inserts a new valve inside your diseased aortic valve and does not require your chest to be opened. This procedure is intended only for patients with age-related aortic stenosis.
How does your heart work?
The heart is a muscular organ located in your chest between your lungs, and is designed to pump blood through your body. The right side of your heart pumps blood through the lungs, where the blood picks up oxygen. The left side of the heart receives this blood and pumps it to the rest of your body.
The heart is divided into four main areas, or chambers – two upper chambers (called the left and right atrium) and two lower chambers (called the left and right ventricle). There are four valves that control the flow of blood through your heart. They are called the aortic, mitral, pulmonary, and tricuspid valves, and each is made of flaps of tissue called leaflets.
Each time your heart bets, it pumps blood through these valves by contracting (squeezing) its chambers. These valves open in one direction, like one-way gates, allowing blood to flow forward. In between beats, the heart’s chambers quickly relax, and its valves close, preventing blood from flowing backward.
There are two common problems that can develop in heart valves: When your valve is narrowed and does not completely open because of things like a build-up of calcium (mineral deposits), high cholesterol (a waxy fat), age or genetics (such as a birth defect), this is called stenosis. When your valve does not fully close and allows blood to leak backwards through the valve, this is called regurgitation.
With either problem, your heart needs to work harder and may not pump enough oxygen-rich blood to your body.
What is severe aortic stenosis?
Severe aortic stenosis is a narrowing of your aortic valve opening that does not allow normal blood flow. It can be caused by a birth defect, radiation therapy or can be related to age.
In elderly patients, severe aortic stenosis is sometimes caused by the build-up of calcium (mineral deposits) on the aortic valve’s leaflets. Over time the leaflets become stiff, reducing their ability to fully open and close. When the leaflets don’t fully open, your heart must work harder to push blood through the aortic valve to your body.
Eventually, your heart gets weaker; increasing the risk of heart failure (your heart cannot supply enough blood to your body). Severe aortic stenosis is a very serious problem.
What is TAVR?
This less invasive procedure is done through a small incision in the groin, or the side of the chest, using a catheter to transport the valve to the heart and then position into place. The TAVR procedure is designed to replace a patient’s diseased aortic valve without the use of a heart-lung machine. TAVR patients must have serious medical issues in order to qualify for the procedure and are first carefully monitored and evaluated by the physician team.
What are the benefits of TAVR?
- Shorter recovery time
- Minimally invasive
- Significantly less pain than open heart surgery
- Shorter hospital stay than open heart surgery
- Life-saving option for high risk patients
Who can I talk with to find out if TAVR is right for me?
While up to 1.5 million people in the U.S. suffer from aortic stenosis, approximately 500,000 within this group of patients suffer from severe aortic stenosis. If you have severe aortic stenosis and are too sick for open heart surgery and if medicine is not helping you feel better, you may be eligible for TAVR. Our cardiologists will do a comprehensive evaluation to determine if the procedure is an appropriate treatment option. Call (800) 352-4410 (Peoria) or (815) 847-5732 (Rockford).
In certain cases, TAVR may not be an option because of co-existing medical conditions or disease processes that would prevent you from experiencing the expected benefits from the treatment or because the risks outweigh the benefits. For those who are candidates for TAVR, this treatment may provide relief from the often debilitating symptoms associated with severe aortic stenosis.