Five Facts about Aortic Valve Surgery
"It" is aortic valve surgery, a procedure in which one of the four valves that regulate the passage of blood in and out of the heart is replaced.
Here are five facts about aortic valve surgery, culled from my phone conversation with Abe DeAnda, director of aortic surgery at the Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, New York:
1. There is not much you can do to prevent or protect against aortic valve failure, which occurs when either the valve hardens or simply wears out, often as a function of age. (Mrs. Bush is 83; Mr. Williams is 57.)
2. Aortic valves can either leak, allowing blood to regurgitate into the heart, or become narrowed (or stenotic) so not enough blood gets past the valve.
3. About 75,000 to 99,000 aortic valve replacement surgeries are performed annually in the U.S. That includes instances in which the original valve is replaced by an artificial one and those in which surgeons replace the aortic valve with the patient's own pulmonary valve, which is in turn replaced with a cadaveric (i.e. harvested from a cadaver) valve. Not all damaged aortic valves require surgery -- but they all need to be evaluated and monitored by a cardiologist. Left untreated, hardened aortic valves eventually lead to heart failure and death.
4. Common symptoms of aortic valve damage include shortness of breath (which both Mrs. Bush and Mr. Williams are reported to have suffered) and, if the valve is stenotic, chest pain and passing out (or feeling that you might pass out). A leaking valve may cause no symptoms at all and may continue leaking for years without incident.
5. Being fit doesn't reduce your risk of aortic valve failure, but, as with all major surgeries, it increases your chances of a successful procedure and speedy recovery. Mrs. Bush's lead surgeon noted in the video posted here that her being fit helped her surgery go smoothly. (You'll want to watch the whole video to catch former President George H.W. Bush incredibly touching comments about his wife's surgery.)
Have you had your aortic valve replaced? Share your experience in the Comments section, please.
Jennifer LaRue Huget
March 9, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Chronic Conditions , General Health , Popular Procedures , Seniors
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