Heart Valve Institute

Heart Health Blog

Aortic Valve Disease:  Are you at Risk?

Bradford Blakeman, MD, FACS
Medical Director, Heart Valve Institute, St. Mary Medical Center

According to the American Heart Association, about 5 million Americans a year are diagnosed with heart valve disease. Over time, the heart valves of many of these patients may become so dysfunctional that valve repair or replacement becomes necessary.

Fortunately, valve surgery – in particular aortic valve replacement – has become commonplace at St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart.  When I and my team from Cardiac Surgery Associates joined the hospital in the establishment of the Heart Valve Institute, the number and complexity of cardiac surgeries grew. My expertise includes twenty-seven years of surgical experience and performing more than 180 valve repairs or replacements per year. This provides patients university-level expertise within the compassionate environment of a hospital close to home.

Aortic valve disease can be very subtle in presentation to the patient.  Often the patient attributes symptoms to simply getting older.  Patients should, instead, compare periods of time--this year compared to last year for example.  Patients will notice a little shortness of breath or a slightly slower pace of walking.  These subtle symptoms do not mean the valve is not in need of fixing.  If you think your valve may be a problem or your doctor hears a murmur (abnormal heart sound), you need an echocardiogram of the heart.  The transthoracic echocardiogram is a noninvasive test which takes a few minutes and can be done on an outpatient basis.

Based on your results, your cardiologist can determine if the valve can be monitored or needs additional testing.  Further testing would include a cardiac catheterization and possibly a trans-esophageal echocardiogram (TEE) of the heart.

If your doctor determines from the tests that the aortic valve needs to be fixed, he will consult a heart surgeon.  The options for replacing the aortic valve can be explained by your surgeon.  These include mechanical or metal valves, tissue valves, human valves, or catheter based valves.  The most common valve used today is a stented tissue valve.  It provides excellent relief of symptoms, good quality of life, and expected valve longevity of 18 to 20 years.

The most common complication of aortic valve replacement is heart block, requiring a pacemaker.  The expected mortality from valve replacement should be 1-3 percent except in very sick patients.  A new option available is a catheter-based valve.  This procedure is not currently available in Northwest Indiana, but you can be screened for this option by me or my team.

The safety and success of aortic valve surgery is greatly determined by early diagnosis and prompt intervention by an experienced surgical team.  Fortunately this expertise is now available in the comfort of your own hospital at St. Mary Medical Center's Heart Valve Institute.