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Health Information The Buzz On ... Valve Disease

Though it occurs less frequently than coronary artery disease, the leading cause of death among American adults, valve disease can be just as serious a problem. Both main categories of this disease — regurgitation, which occurs when a valve does not close properly, and stenosis, which occurs when a valve narrows too much to let enough blood through — often require surgery to repair or replace the faulty valve. If left untreated, some kinds of valve disease can be fatal.

But surgery isn't always an option. For example, many patients with calcific degenerative aortic stenosis — a buildup of plaque deposits that narrows the aortic valve — are older adults for whom open heart surgery might cause complications like stroke or pneumonia. "As a result," says Clifford Kavinsky, MD, PhD, an interventional cardiologist at the Rush Valve Clinic, "up to 40 percent of those with calcific degenerative aortic stenosis never have the chance to have a life-saving valve replacement."

Recent technology, however, has given physicians a way to save such patients' lives without exposing them to the risks of open surgery.

Saving More Lives
"I couldn’t have withstood surgery," says Albert, a patient at Rush University Medical Center who learned earlier this year that he would need to have his aortic valve replaced. Because Albert has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in addition to aortic stenosis, open heart surgery would have put him at risk of serious complications, including death.

Physicians at the Rush Valve Clinic offered him an alternative. This summer, Albert became the first patient at Rush to participate in a clinical trial of a new, nonsurgical method of replacing the aortic valve. During this minimally invasive procedure, which involves less recovery time and fewer risks than surgery, physicians replace the valve via a thin catheter inserted through the chest or leg.

"It was a godsend," says Albert's wife, Donna, of the procedure. "For Albert, it was either this or mortality."

Albert isn't alone. The valve clinic offers new minimally invasive procedures to patients with aortic stenosis as well as those with mitral regurgitation — which occurs when the mitral valve doesn't close properly — and dysfunctional conduit between the right ventricle and the pulmonary artery. "This technology could save the lives of thousands of patients with valve disease who have no other therapeutic options," says Ziyad Hijazi, MD, MPH, an interventional cardiologist at the valve clinic.

Tailoring Treatment
While new minimally invasive procedures represent a major advancement for many people with valve disease, they aren't right for everyone. They comprise only part of a broad range of surgical and nonsurgical treatments for valve disease. The variety of options, Hijazi says, means that "it's more important than ever to make sure treatments for valve disease are tailored for each individual patient."


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Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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