TAVR Provides New Hope for High-Risk Patients with Heart Disease
Over the course of a lifetime, a normal heart beats more than 3.3 billion times. Day in and day out, second after second. If something goes wrong with your heart, it can limit your ability to do the everyday things you take for granted—and it may even be life-threatening.
One serious and fairly common heart condition is called aortic stenosis, which affects the aortic valve in your heart. Until a few years ago, the only treatment for this disease was open-heart surgery. It’s taxing on the body, recovery times are extensive, and it’s not an option for some high-risk patients.
Unfortunately, these high-risk patients didn’t have another option for treatment. Until recently.
“Transcatheter aortic valve replacement, or TAVR, is providing new hope for treating aortic stenosis among patients who are not candidates for other treatment options because of their age, overall health or other medical issues,” says George M. Comas, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Abington - Jefferson Health. “For patients whose symptoms can make them feel like they are drowning, this procedure is a lifesaver.”
Aortic Stenosis Can Be Painful and Restrict Activities
The aortic valve has an important job to do. It opens to allow oxygen-rich blood to flow from your heart into the aorta, where it can then flow to your muscles, organs and other body parts so they can function properly. The valve closes to ensure blood doesn’t flow back into the heart from the aorta.
“With aortic stenosis, calcium build-up and scarring can damage the aortic valve and narrow the valve opening,” says Dr. Comas. “As a result, blood flow out of the heart is restricted.”
Sometimes, patients with aortic stenosis don’t have any symptoms in the early stages of the disease. However, as the disease progresses and the aortic valve opening continues to narrow, it can produce problems such as breathlessness, chest pain, palpitations and heart murmur. It can also make it very difficult to do normal activities, even things that only require minimal effort, like walking.
The Valve Within a Valve: How TAVR Works
The goal of TAVR is to implant a new, artificial valve to take over the job of the damaged aortic valve.
“The surgeon, working together with the interventional cardiologist, uses a catheter to maneuver the new valve into place, which slips inside the old valve,” says Dr. Comas. “Once there, the new valve expands and pushes the damaged valve parts out of the way and starts regulating blood flow into the aorta.”
The biggest benefit of TAVR is that the procedure it less invasive—the patient is rarely placed on a ventilator during surgery, and there is only a small puncture instead of a large incision. Instead of open surgery, the surgeon can guide the catheter through the blood vessels to the implantation site. The procedure itself is less traumatic and the average hospital stay is three days.
TAVR makes treatment for aortic stenosis available to a range of patients who were once considered inoperable. Since the procedure is relatively new—it’s been practiced in the United States since 2011—not every hospital offers it. However, the heart team at Abington - Jefferson Health, along with Dr. Comas, are helping patients live longer, happier lives through TAVR.
If you or a loved one may be a candidate for TAVR, talk to your doctor to see if the procedure may be right for you, or visit JeffersonHealth.org/AbingtonHeart.
Page last reviewed: February 8, 2018
Page last updated: February 8, 2018