Type of Surgery
Last updated: 02/17/2009
Balloon valvuloplasty is performed on children and adults who have a narrowed heart valve, a condition called stenosis. The goal of the procedure is to improve valve function and blood flow by enlarging the valve opening. It is sometimes used to avoid...
or delay open heart surgery and valve replacement.
There are four valves in the heartâ€”the aortic valve, pulmonary valve, mitral valve, and tricuspid valveâ€”each at the exit of one of the heart's four chambers. These valves open and close to regulate the blood flow from one chamber to the next and are vital to the efficient functioning of the heart and circulatory system. Balloon valvuloplasty is used primarily to treat pulmonary, mitral, and aortic valves when narrowing is present and medical treatment has not corrected or relieved the related problems. With mitral stenosis, for example, medical solutions are typically tried first, such as diuretic therapy (reducing excess fluid), anticoagulant therapy (thinning the blood and preventing blood clots), or blood pressure medications. Valvuloplasty is recommended for those patients whose symptoms continue to progress even after taking such medications for a period of time.
Valvular stenosis can be a congenital defect (develops in the fetus and is present at birth) or can be acquired, that is to stem from other conditions. Mitral valve stenosis in adults, for example, is rarely congenital and is usually acquired, either a result of having rheumatic fever as a child or developing calcium obstruction in the valve later in life. Pulmonary stenosis is almost entirely congenital. Aortic stenosis usually does not produce symptoms until the valve is 75% blocked; this occurs over time and is consequently found in people between the ages of 40 and 70. Tricuspid stenosis is usually the result of rheumatic fever; it occurs less frequently than other valve defects.
Childhood symptoms of valve narrowing may include heart dysfunction, heart failure, blood pressure abnormalities, or a murmur. Adult symptoms will likely mimic heart disease and may include blood pressure abnormalities, shortness of breath, chest pain (angina), irregular heart beat (arrhythmia), or fainting spells (syncope). Electrocardiogram (EKG), x ray, and angiography (a special x-ray examination using dye in the vascular system) may be performed to identify valvular heart problems. Depending on the severity of symptoms, cardiac catheterization may also be performed to examine heart valve function prior to recommending a surgical procedure. Valvular angioplasty is performed in children and adults to relieve stenosis. While it offers relief, it does not always cure the problem, particularly in adults, and often valvotomy (cutting the valve leaflets to correct the opening) or valve replacement is necessary at a later date.
Balloon valvuloplasty is a procedure in which a thin tube (catheter) that has a small deflated balloon at the tip is inserted through the skin in the groin area into a blood vessel, and then is threaded up to the opening of the narrowed heart valve. The balloon is inflated, which stretches the valve open. This procedure cures many valve obstructions. It is also called balloon enlargement of a narrowed heart valve.
The procedure is performed in a cardiac catheterization laboratory and takes up to four hours. The patient is usually awake, but is given local anesthesia to make the area where the catheter is inserted numb. After the site where the catheter will be inserted is prepared and anesthetized, the cardiologist inserts a catheter into the appropriate blood vessel, then passes a balloon-tipped catheter through the first catheter. Guided by a video monitor and an x ray, the physician slowly threads the catheter into the heart. The deflated balloon is positioned in the valve opening, then is inflated repeatedly. The inflated balloon widens the valve's opening by splitting the valve leaflets apart. Once the valve is widened, the balloon-tipped catheter is removed. The other catheter remains in place for 6 to 12 hours because in some cases the procedure must be repeated.
In 2006, 2,192 heart transplantations were performed in the United States. There are 257 transplant hospitals in the United States, 135 of which perform heart transplantations. (http://www.unos.org/)
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