Health & Medicine

Minimally invasive heart procedures offer hope for patients who are not candidates for open-heart surgery

Dr. Michael Schaeffer is a cardiologist at Saint Joseph Cardiology Associates, part of KentuckyOne Health.
Dr. Michael Schaeffer is a cardiologist at Saint Joseph Cardiology Associates, part of KentuckyOne Health.

Minimally invasive surgical techniques have long been used for common procedures such as the removal of the gallbladder or appendix. These less invasive procedures leave patients with little scarring, shorter hospital stays and faster recovery times.

Recent developments have resulted in the development of minimally invasive heart procedures providing hope for many patients who were otherwise out of options. One of these procedures is transcatheter aortic-valve replacement (TAVR).

The TAVR procedure is used to treat some individuals with severe aortic stenosis. Also known as narrowing of the aortic valve in the heart, aortic stenosis is one of the most common valve problems. It is the only valve replacement option for patients with severe aortic stenosis who are not well enough to undergo open-heart surgery. 

During the TAVR procedure, a cardiologist and a cardiothoracic surgeon work together to implant the new heart valve, called the Edwards SAPIEN valve developed by Edwards Lifesciences. The valve is inserted into the body through the femoral artery in the leg or through the side of the chest using a small incision.

Once delivered to the site of the patient's diseased valve, the Edwards SAPIEN valve is expanded with a balloon and immediately functions in place of the patient's valve. The procedure allows for valve replacement while the heart is beating, avoiding cardiopulmonary bypass.

Following the TAVR procedure, most patients are out of the hospital within five days and are able to return to regular activity a short time later.

As long as the patient is healthy and does not have life-threatening health concerns other than valve disease, the TAVR procedure can extend the patient's life significantly.

Before the development of the TAVR procedure, if a patient had severe aortic stenosis was too high risk for open-heart surgery, he or she had few treatment options and the condition would be fatal. Although medication therapy was often used with these patients, medications are not as effective once aortic stenosis becomes severe.

Not everyone is a candidate for TAVR or other minimally invasive procedures, so please check with your doctor.

If you have aortic stenosis but have been told you are too high risk for open-heart surgery, your doctor can make an assessment to determine if the TAVR procedure is an option for you.

Less invasive heart procedures are the future of treating valve disease. With the aging population of the United States, there is an increasing number of patients with heart valve problems who cannot undergo open-heart surgery.

The development and use of minimally invasive procedures to treat heart valve disease are growing. Another minimally invasive procedure called MitraClip is now being used to treat patients with mitral regurgitation who cannot undergo open-heart surgery and many others procedures are in the research and discovery phase with ongoing clinical trials.

If you are over the age of 65 and are experiencing shortness of breath, chest pain or dizziness, you should be evaluated for heart valve disease.