Marc Sakwa, M.D.

Nearly 11 million Americans have heart valve disease, which is when one or more of the heart’s valves don’t work properly. The heart’s valves keep blood flowing in the correct direction throughout the body. The valves (mitral, tricuspid, pulmonary and aortic) have “leaflets” that open and close when your heart beats. If your valves don’t open or close properly, blood flow can be disrupted, and cause shortness of breath, chest pain, swelling or fatigue.

Some cases of heart valve disease are congenital while others occur later in life.There are several different types of valve problems:

  • Regurgitation is when the leaflets don’t close properly, causing blood to leak backward into your heart.
  • Stenosis is when the leaflets become thickened or stiff and may even fuse together. This creates a narrow opening resulting in reduced blood flow.
  • Atresia is when the valve isn’t formed properly and the tissue blocks blood flow between chambers.

Factors that increase your risk for valve disease:

  • Age
  • History of infections that affect the heart
  • History of heart disease or a heart attack
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Congenital heart disease

Many health complications can arise from valve disease, including heart failure, stroke, blood clots, heart rhythm abnormalities and even death.

Valve disease can present itself differently between individuals. Some people have no symptoms while others may experience a sudden onset of symptoms. While symptoms are not always present, valve disease can cause serious damage. Symptoms of valve disease include:

  • Chest pain or palpitations
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty catching your breath
  • Fatigue, weakness or inability to maintain regular activity
  • Lightheadedness or even loss of consciousness
  • Swollen ankles, feet or abdomen

Since everyone’s valve disease is unique to them, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to treatment. The available choices include valve repair or replacement. When your valve needs repair or replacement, the MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute determines the best option for you by utilizing minimally-invasive-first approaches to treatments.

Minimally invasive treatments spare healthy tissue, reduce scarring and bleeding, lower infection risk, decrease length of hospital stay and accelerate recovery time. With these techniques, surgeons perform procedures through small incisions using specialized surgical instruments.

The minimally invasive approach to aortic and mitral valve repair is through a right mini-thoracotomy. The surgeon creates small incisions in between the ribs to approach the heart from the right side of the chest. The surgeon has direct access to the heart valves and can perform the valve surgery with minimal scarring.

An even less invasive procedure is transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), which allows the aortic valve to be replaced with a new valve while your heart is still beating. The new valve is placed using a catheter that is inserted into the groin – avoiding open-heart surgery.

The MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute is comprised of cardiovascular physicians and surgeons that are renowned leaders in their filed and are on the leading-edge of new and advanced procedures using the most advanced technology.