Picture of a heart with a stethoscope

Each year in the United States, more than five million Americans are diagnosed with heart valve disease, which occurs when one or more heart valves are not opening or closing properly.

A person’s heart has four valves: aortic, mitral, pulmonary and tricuspid. These valves help direct the blood flow through the chambers of the heart and into the rest of the body. The valves are prone to various medical problems that can affect the way they function – resulting in narrowing or leaking – which disturbs normal blood flow patterns.

This results in various symptoms such as progressive shortness of breath, swelling of legs, chest pain, lightheadedness or blackouts, leading to the patient not being able to perform daily activities, recurrent hospitalizations, and potential death from heart failure and associated complications.

The most common valve problems are those of the aortic and mitral valves, which are also the two most commonly repaired or replaced valves. Narrowing of these valves – referred to as stenosis – is a challenging and potentially life-threatening condition.

A patient experiencing aortic stenosis will eventually need an aortic valve replacement, which is currently done with open heart surgery in patients who are deemed at low risk for such surgery. It can also be performed during a minimally invasive procedure known as the TAVR procedure, where a catheter is inserted through a small incision in the groin.

The TAVR procedure is done like a heart catheterization and most patients are able to go home in 24 hours following the procedure. Leakage in the aortic valve – known as aortic valve regurgitation – is currently treated through surgical valve replacement.

Mitral stenosis – usually the result of rheumatic heart disease – is usually repaired through a minimally invasive procedure known as a balloon valvuloplasty, where a balloon on the tip of a catheter is inflated to widen the valve and improve blood flow.

Mitral valve regurgitation – or leakage – is a more common condition and typically requires surgery to repair or replace the valve. Patients deemed high risk for open heart surgery may instead undergo a catheter-based procedure, the Mitraclip, performed through a small incision in the groin.

The Mitraclip procedure uses innovative technology to repair the mitral valve without the need for open heart surgery. Following this procedure, most patients leaving the hospital within 24 hours. This procedure is helping reduce hospitalization time and symptoms of heart failure, such as shortness of breath and leg swelling. Saint Joseph Hospital has been performing the Mitraclip procedure since 2013.

If you are suffering from heart valve disease or are experiencing symptoms of this disease, it is important to talk to your physician immediately to help determine the source of the problem.

Watch the video below to learn more about the minimally invasive Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) procedure to correct a narrowed aortic valve:

To learn more about heart valve replacements, contact the CHI Saint Joseph Medical Group. The practice is located at 1401 Harrodsburg Road, Suite A-300 in Lexington, and can be reached by calling 859.276.4429.

Nezar Falluji, MD

Nezar Falluji, MD, MPH

Dr. Falluji is with the CHI Saint Joseph Medical Group – Cardiology.