Treatment Options for Heart Valve Disease
Jun 11, 2021 Cedars-Sinai Staff
Every year, more than 5 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with heart valve disease. The human heart contains four separate valves: mitral, tricuspid, pulmonary and aortic. If one of these valves is not functioning properly, the heart has to work harder to pump blood and keep it flowing in the right direction, leading to heart valve disease.
Dr. Joanna Chikwe, chair of the Department of Cardiac Surgery at Cedars-Sinai, says that while some people might be hesitant to undergo surgery to replace or repair a heart valve, it's far riskier to let severe heart disease go untreated.
"If you have a mitral valve that leaks, you want a mitral valve surgeon. If you have an aortic valve that needs replacing, you should consult an aortic valve surgeon."
"Surgery is actually the safest option you have," Dr. Chikwe says. "The things that you're scared of when you think about heart surgery, like dying or having a stroke, are actually more likely to happen if you do nothing."
New minimally invasive treatment options for heart valve disease
In the past, treatment for heart valve disease was often limited to medication or open-heart surgery.
Due to advances in surgical technology, there are now a range of innovative, minimally invasive procedures to treat heart valve disease, such as transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), percutaneous mitral valve repair (MitraClip) and robotic mitral valve repair.
The Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai is a leader in heart surgery, performing more TAVR procedures every year than any other medical facility in the U.S.
Dr. Chikwe says that for patients with a heart disease, it's important to seek out a cardiac surgeon who specializes in their specific heart valve condition.
"If you have a mitral valve that leaks, you want a mitral valve surgeon," Dr. Chikwe says. "If you have an aortic valve that needs replacing, you should consult an aortic valve surgeon."
You can increase your chances of having a successful heart valve repair to about 100%, depending on which specialist you choose for your operation, says Dr. Chikwe.
Repairing vs. replacing a heart valve
Historically, heart surgeons corrected a mitral valve, which lies between the two chambers of the heart on the left side, by replacing the faulty valve with an artificial one.
Today, cardiac specialists are able to repair, rather than replace, a faulty mitral valve through minimally invasive surgery. Compared to replacing the valve, mitral valve repair is associated with better outcomes and faster recovery times.
"Whenever possible, we repair—rather than replace—the valve," says Dr. Chikwe.
A faster road to recovery
Patients who undergo minimally invasive surgery to repair or replace a heart valve are often able to recover in just a few weeks.
"After heart surgery, you should feel much more able to do all the types of physical activities that you maybe weren't able to do before," Dr. Chikwe says.