A transcatheter aortic valve replacement is a revolutionary procedure that safely treats patients with severe aortic stenosis without open-heart surgery. A minimally invasive surgical procedure, TAVR repairs the damaged aortic valve, one of two main valves on the left side of the heart regulating blood flow by opening and closing.

What is aortic stenosis?

This condition is caused by the heart’s crucial aortic valve narrowing or failing. Aortic stenosis results in reduced or blocked blood flow to the body. Currently, 1.5 million people in the United States have aortic stenosis, and, without an aortic valve replacement, 50 percent will not survive more than two years once symptoms begin.

How is TAVR performed?

A team of cardiovascular surgeons, interventional cardiologists and anesthesiologists place a collapsible replacement heart valve into the body via a catheter through the femoral artery in the thigh. The catheter is gently threaded up to the heart. In just 10 seconds, the valve is set in place of the old one without removing the damaged valve. Once the collapsible aortic heart valve is in place, the surgeon opens up the device, opening the aortic valve and providing the heart the oxygen and blood needed to pump more efficiently. The procedure is completed while the heart is still beating.

How is TAVR different?

Usually valve replacement requires an open-heart procedure with a sternotomy, surgically separating or opening the chest to perform the procedure. With TAVR, very small incisions are made in the femoral artery in the thigh, leaving all the chest bones in place.

Who qualifies for TAVR?

For those diagnosed with aortic stenosis, options to mend the weakened heart valve used to be slim. In fact, research shows patients with severe aortic stenosis do not survive more than an average of two years after the onset of symptoms if they do not have surgery. However, some patients with severe aortic stenosis are not candidates for open-heart surgery. TAVR is far less invasive than open-heart surgery and provides an opportunity for patients whose condition was previously untreatable to now receive treatment. A person who has this procedure is usually ages 70 or older, and often, the person has other medical conditions making him or her a better candidate for TAVR.

Sean Russell, a cardiovascular surgeon at Sanford Health in Bismarck, specializes in diagnosing and treating issues involving the heart, lungs and blood vessels. He completed his medical degree at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and his residency at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. He is board certified in general and thoracic surgery.

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