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The valves in your heart’s four chambers open and close in precise patterns an average of 100,000 times a day. This process circulates blood through our bodies and helps us remain active.
But if a valve malfunctions—a condition called valve disease—blood flow decreases or moves in the wrong direction. This makes the heart muscle work harder to maintain proper circulation. Over time, it can cause symptoms such as fatigue or shortness of breath and eventually lead to heart failure.
Whether the malfunction is due to a genetic disorder, an infection, or the natural aging process, the only way to fix the problem is to repair or replace the valve. Some mild cases of valve disease can be treated without surgery, but severe and symptomatic cases require surgical repair.
MedStar Health is a national leader in developing and improving the most innovative heart valve treatments. We’ve combined the brightest minds across several specialties into a team of heart experts dedicated to evaluating each patient’s condition and recommending a personalized treatment plan.
With several treatment options to choose from, this team approach is critical to helping patients understand the pros and cons of each and determine the best game plan to improve their quality of life.
Surgery for #ValveDisease has come a long way. It’s most effective when performed by a team informed by years of research and experience—and adept at the most advanced technology. Learn more in this blog: https://bit.ly/3rZnmdh.Click to Tweet
Understanding common valve disease types and treatments.
Aortic and mitral valve diseases are the most common types. The aortic valve opens to allow blood to exit the heart from the left ventricle, and the mitral valve opens to move blood into the left ventricle from the left atrium. Both should close tightly to prevent blood from flowing backward throughout the circulation process.
Aortic valve replacement.
The classic problem we see in the aortic valve is aortic stenosis—narrowing of the valve due to scarring or calcium buildup. Every time the heart contracts, that valve should open widely. If it’s narrow, the heart is constantly strained as it tries to pump blood through a much smaller opening. This process progresses slowly, and patients can be asymptomatic for years. Others might experience:
- Chest pain
- Fainting during activities
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling in the ankles and feet
For severe aortic stenosis, we typically recommend replacing the valve with open heart surgery or transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), a minimally invasive procedure that delivers an artificial valve through a small incision in the groin. TAVR takes around 45 minutes, and patients usually go home within a couple days.
MedStar Health is one of the top TAVR centers in the U.S. We have participated in every major TAVR clinical trial, and our heart team performs approximately 400 procedures a year.
Mitral valve repair.
When the mitral valve stops working due to narrowing or failure to close properly, blood flows backward toward the lungs. Patients can experience similar symptoms to aortic valve disease, but they usually benefit more from repairing the valve rather than replacing it.
Open heart surgery is a safe, effective option for patients with no other serious health conditions. Most patients are up and walking the next day, and most can return to regular activities within two months after surgery.
Endovascular catheter-based options offer patients—particularly those who cannot undergo open heart surgery—effective valve treatment without opening the chest. Minimally invasive procedures generally require less recovery time with the added benefits of lower risk of infection and excess blood loss. Options may include:
- MitraClipTM procedure, in which we insert a device into the valve through a small incision in the groin, helping valve close properly and stop leaking.
- Mitral valvuloplasty, in which the surgeon places an inflatable balloon in the narrowed valve to widen it. The procedure is done through a small groin incision.
Robotic surgery repairs the valve similar to open heart surgery but without opening the chest. The surgeon guides tiny robotic surgical tools through two tiny incisions in the chest.
Depending on your condition and lifestyle, patients who choose minimally invasive surgery may need another procedure later in life to keep the valve working properly.
Related reading: Teamwork Saves Patient’s Life
Evaluating risks and benefits.
If you don't have major comorbidities or other medical issues, the likelihood of a good outcome after valve surgery is over 95% for adults of any age. While there are risks with all procedures, specialized cardiac centers like ours reduce those risks by combining the expertise of highly trained surgeons who perform valve surgeries consistently.
We also encourage you to have a conversation with your doctor about your heart-health goals. Some patients want to be able to play with their grandchildren without constantly stopping to catch their breath. Others want to be able to get back to work faster—with an understanding that further treatment might be necessary in the future.
Our structural heart and valve disease team includes cardiologists, cardiac surgeons, anesthesiologists, specialized nurses, and cardiovascular imaging specialists. They consider each patient’s health and personal goals, in addition to knowledge gained through ongoing experience and clinical research, when discussing treatment for every potential heart surgery patient. Incorporating expertise from a diverse group of specialists ensures we’re considering patient health from every angle and recommending the safest treatment.
Early treatment makes a difference.
Valve disease makes it difficult to be active. The less active people can be due to their symptoms, the worse their circulation and symptoms become—it can feel like an endless cycle. The sooner valve disease is treated, the better you will start to feel.
Even if you’re not experiencing symptoms, getting an early diagnosis can help you avoid complications in the future. If you’re 50 or older, ask your primary care doctor to listen to your heart. If they suspect a heart murmur—a swishing sound caused by abnormal blood flow—they can request an echocardiogram. This painless imaging scan uses sound waves to produce images of your heart that will show if the valves are functioning properly.
We’ve seen an increase in valve disease among adults of all ages, with and without symptoms. The trend is likely because more providers and patients are discovering how easy it is to diagnose valve disease and how safe the treatments are.
Don’t let valve disease reduce your health and happiness. Our specialized team of cardiac care providers has the expertise to help you improve your quality of life.