As we age, our bodies begin to break down. From sore backs to bum knees, getting older impacts nearly every part of our body. The aging process also impacts the heart, the most complex organ in the body.
With age, the heart tends to enlarge slightly, developing thicker walls and slightly larger chambers or arteries. This can result in the narrowing of the aortic valve opening due to calcium buildup – a heart disease known as Aortic Stenosis. There is no way to prevent the disease nor are there drugs to treat it, leaving surgery as the only option.
Aortic stenosis restricts blood flow to the heart, causing fatigue, shortness of breath and even chest pain. It impacts 1.5 million Americans, mostly in their 70s, 80s and 90s.
Up until recently, the only treatment option was full open heart surgery for Aortic Valve Replacement (AVR). Doctors opened up the patient’s entire chest cavity, cut out the old valve and replaced it with a new one. The procedure can come with risks especially for older patients. AVR surgery can lead to a multi-week recovery in the hospital, along with a long rehabilitation process.
An alternative to open heart surgery has emerged called TAVR. The procedure is less stressful on the body and can offer much faster recovery times.
TAVR, or transcatheter aortic valve replacement surgery, has been performed in Europe since the 1990s and was brought to the United States in clinical trials around 2010.
In a TAVR, a new valve is folded up into a catheter, placed into the patient’s blood vessel in the groin and fed up the blood vessel until it reaches the base of the aorta (the largest blood vessel carrying blood from the heart to the rest of the body).
Once in place, doctors open a balloon which inflates the valve from the catheter. The old valve remains, and is pushed aside by the new valve. It is sealed, and blood begins to flow more freely within minutes.
The procedure can be done with light anesthesia, and most patients are out of the intensive care unit within a day and home from the hospital in three to four days. Patients then undergo ongoing cardiac rehab for a period of three to four months to build heart strength.
See the story of a recent TAVR patient and how the procedure has impacted his life:
What to Look For in Valve Replacement Options?
The TAVR procedure has transformed heart valve replacement options for patients, but it’s not the only option. In some instances, open heart surgery might be a better fit for a patient.
Your medical team will consider a variety of factors before recommending the best approach for you.
What should you look for when exploring major heart surgery options like valve replacement?
Many advanced, experienced programs are also now using Next Generation TAVR devices that allow more flexibility by surgeons to move the device to the best place on the aorta. You want the best for your body, and you deserve a team that can bring you the best products available.
With any heart procedure, risks are involved and every person’s body reacts differently to different situations. If you or your loved one faces heart surgery, ask your doctor about all the options available. Be informed. Be curious. And embrace the newest technologies like TAVR that are helping people get home faster and live a longer, happier life, free of pain and fatigue.