The aortic valve controls blood flow from the heart to the rest of the body. When the valve is narrowed (stenosis) or damaged, the heart has to work harder, which can lead to heart failure, heart attack, or other issues. Advanced stenosis can cause symptoms including fainting, chest pain, shortness of breath, and lung congestion, and may require valve replacement.
While aortic valve replacement is usually performed via a traditional open surgery, a procedure called TAVR (Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement) is a minimally invasive option for patients who are not candidates for open surgery due to age, frailty, or other medical conditions such as lung or kidney disease. In a large clinical trial called PARTNER, TAVR was shown to greatly reduce the risk of death in patients who formerly would have been considered too high-risk to undergo an open valve replacement surgery.
Physicians use a catheter to guide a replacement valve made of animal tissue and metal mesh through an artery to the location of the aortic valve. The replacement valve is expanded, pushing aside the old valve, and begins functioning right away, leading to improved blood flow.
Often these procedures are performed while the patient is awake under mild sedation helping to allow for a rapid recovery and early hospital discharge.