More patients than ever have heart valve diseases. Up to 1.5 million people in the U.S. suffer from a buildup of calcium on the valve, causing the heart to have to work harder to pump blood. Doctors say because it's a problem of old age, they've seen an increase in the disease as the population continues to age. Previously open heart surgery was the only treatment. But as our Katie Gibas reports, the FDA approved a non-surgical procedure for high risk patients.
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Many aging adults' hearts are working harder than ever. That's because over time, calcium can build up on a heart valve making it tougher for the heart to pump blood effectively. The technical name is Aortic Stenosis.
"It's analogous to a garden hose. The whole plumbing system can work well. The hose can work well, but if the nozzle is too tight, you can't get the garden watered. It really is just old age in the valve. There's nothing you can do to speed it up. There's nothing you can do to slow it down. There's nothing you can do to prevent it. It's a mechanical problem. If you don't fix the obstruction, you can't fix the problem. And people, once they develop symptoms from Severe Aortic Stenosis from a narrowed Aortic valve, their mortality rate is excessive. It's 50 percent over the next one to two years and their symptoms are very limiting," said Dr. Matt O'Hern, an Interventional Cardiologist.
For years, open heart surgery was the only method to replace a valve. But in November, the FDA approved a new procedure called Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement or TAVR. The non-surgical approach starts with an incision in the groin and follows the artery to the heart. A flexible metal device called a stent is installed in the defective valve, which allows the heart to pump blood with less resistance. Because doctors aren't sure how long the stent will last, the procedure is still only approved for patients who can't have the open heart surgery.
"When patients are candidates for open heart surgery to replace the valve, they do extremely well and it's a fantastic treatment modality but it's the only treatment modality. There's no other way to treat it. It carries a very poor prognosis once symptoms start to occur. But because it's a disease of an aging population, we can't offer surgery, surgical risk is excessive in a large portion of those patients," said O'Hern.
While not everyone is eligible for TAVR, St. Joseph's Hospital has developed a patient clinic to help people decide which valve treatment is right for them.
"We're establishing a valve clinic to make sure everybody gets the right treatment. Not this treatment because it's new but to get the right treatment. Surgeons will be evaluating the patients. Interventional cardiologists will be evaluating the patients. And we want to give them the right treatment," said O'Hern.
Doctors predict that if the stent proves to be durable in the long-term, it will likely replace a lot of surgical valve procedures
St. Joe's is looking for patients for their valve clinic. For more information talk to your doctor or call St. Joe's at 1-888-STJOES1 or visit www.sjhsyr.org/tavr.