Dr. Ancona-Young taking patient's blood pressure.

Aortic valve disease and surgery

Diseases of the heart valves are grouped according to which valve or valves are involved and the amount of blood flow that is disrupted by the problem. The most common and serious valve problems happen in the mitral and aortic valves.

The aortic valve regulates the blood flow from the heart's lower-left chamber (the left ventricle) into the aorta. The aorta is the main vessel that supplies blood to the rest of the body. Two main diseases can affect the aortic valve — aortic regurgitation and aortic stenosis.

How aortic valve surgery works

Cardiothoracic surgeons perform aortic valve replacements with "open heart" surgery. During this procedure, an incision is made down the middle of the breastbone (called a median 1st sternotomy) to provide direct access and visualization to the heart.

During surgery the patient is placed on a heart-lung bypass machine to oxygenate the blood while the heart is stopped to safely replace the valve.

Once the valve is replaced the chest cavity is closed and the patient recovers in the hospital for about five days. The procedure takes between two and four hours to complete.

Some patients may be unable to undergo traditional "open-heart" surgery because of age, history of heart disease, frailty or other health issues. Transcatheter aortic valve replacements may be an appropriate alternative. This procedure allows interventional cardiologists to replace a diseased aortic heart valve by placing a balloon-expandable heart valve into the body through a catheter inserted through a small incision in the thigh.

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