TAVR Approved for Low-Risk Aortic Stenosis Patients: What to Know
Your heart is pretty amazing. It beats approximately 100,000 times each day and pumps 2,000 gallons of blood through your body. Your heart sends oxygenated blood to all of its tissues via the largest artery, the aorta. So you can imagine if the connection between your heart and aorta was narrowed, your heart would have to work harder, and it would be difficult for blood to flow as it should. This is called aortic stenosis, and when blood flow is significantly reduced, it can lead to serious complications.
Previously, aortic stenosis could only be corrected using open-heart surgery to replace the valve that connects the heart and aorta. More recently, a less invasive procedure known as transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) was developed; it was originally only approved for those who couldn’t have open-heart surgery due to other medical issues or those who were at intermediate or high risk for complications. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has now given the green light for TAVR to be performed on any severe aortic stenosis patients after clinical trials showed positive outcomes, even if they have only a low risk of complications from open-heart surgery.
How does TAVR work?
Your doctor will make a small skin incision either in your groin area, your chest, or between your ribs to access an artery. Then, while using special imaging techniques, he or she will insert a narrow, flexible tube called a catheter into the incision, and thread a new folded-up valve through the catheter until it reaches your aortic valve. The replacement valve is then expanded, often using a small balloon, so that it opens up on top of your damaged aortic valve, covering it and assuming its functions. Then, the catheter is removed. This new valve takes over from the old valve, widening the connection between the heart and aorta, while also ensuring blood flows in the correct direction and does not back up into the heart.
There are three places that can be used as points of entry for the procedure:
- Through a large artery in your leg: Your doctor can insert the catheter through your femoral artery in your groin.
- Through your chest: A small incision can be made in your upper chest, and the catheter can be inserted into a large artery or into the left ventricle of your heart.
- Between your ribs: The catheter can be inserted into your chest between your ribs to reach your aortic valve.
How does TAVR compare to open-heart surgery?
Studies have shown TAVR outcomes are similar to, if not better than, open-heart surgery in terms of safety and effectiveness. The benefit to TAVR is that it does not require a major incision and opening of the chest cavity. Patients generally spend only 3 to 5 days in the hospital post-TAVR.
Yet, as with any major medical procedure, there are potential risks associated with TAVR. These include:
- Heart attack
- Abnormal heart rhythm
- Complications with blood vessels
- Kidney injury
Be sure to follow your doctor’s orders after your procedure and notify your doctor at once if you have any concerns. This will not only aid in your recovery, but may help you avoid serious complications.
While TAVR is showing real promise, it may not be right for everyone. It’s not recommended for patients on blood thinners or who are currently fighting an infection. Talk to your doctor about what options are best for you.