Heart Valve Problems

Your heart pumps blood through a series of valves out to your body. If a valve isn’t working properly, your heart can’t circulate blood efficiently or effectively. Because your heart must work harder, you may experience chest pains, light headedness, tiredness, shortness of breath, swelling and coughing. Left untreated, it can lead to heart failure.

Heart valve conditions may be the result of:

  • Buildup of calcium or scar tissue
  • High blood pressure
  • Other heart problems, such as coronary artery disease
  • Birth defect (some may go undetected until later in life)
  • Illnesses such as rheumatic fever and certain infections
  • The aging process

Any of these conditions can cause a valve to thicken (stenosis) so the valve cannot open and close freely. Valves can also become weak and fail to close tightly (insufficiency or regurgitation).

Treatments we offer

Gundersen heart specialists can provide medical management of your valve problem such as medications and lifestyle changes. When your condition can no longer be managed well, surgery may be your next best option, including: 

Heart valve repair

Annuloplasty is used to repair the fibrous tissue at the base of the mitral valve (the annulus). Sometimes, it becomes enlarged, allowing blood to back up. To repair this, sutures are sewn around the annulus to make the opening smaller.

Valvuloplasty is a minimally invasive procedure used to open a clogged valve.

Heart valve replacement

A congenital defect, infection, scarring or aging can damage your heart valve. The most common problem is calcification around the valve preventing it from opening or closing properly, putting a strain on the heart. Sometimes the valve can be repaired, but more often it will need to be replaced with either:

  • A mechanical valve designed to work like your native heart valve. To prevent blood clots from developing on the valve, you will need to take blood thinners daily.
  • A tissue valve taken from an animal or made from animal tissue. The tissue is treated and prepared for human use to prevent rejection. Long-term blood thinners are not necessary with a tissue valve implant.

Transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR)

TAVR is a minimally invasive procedure for patients with aortic valve stenosis, a narrowing of the valve due to calcium deposits. Treatment for aortic valve stenosis is usually valve replacement done as an open heart procedure, but some patients are not candidates. TAVR is FDA-approved for those who are not candidates for open-heart surgery or patients who are risky to operate on including patients with: 

  • Scarring from previous bypass surgeries or radiation
  • Severe hardening of the arteries
  • Conditions that won’t allow them to go on a heart bypass pump without significant risks
  • Older patients (late 80s or older) who are not candidates for traditional surgery

With TAVR, a catheter delivers a collapsed replacement heart valve to the site of the faulty valve. Once at the valve site, the new valve is expanded and lodged in place. It also pins the old valve leaflets against the artery walls out of the way as it takes over the valve function.

Because it’s a minimally invasive procedure, patients usually have shorter hospital stays and faster recovery than with traditional open-heart surgery.

Combination heart surgery

Depending on the nature of your heart disease, your Gundersen heart surgeon may recommend a combination surgery such as valve surgery together with a heart bypass. Gundersen was among the first to offer the combination using minimally invasive techniques. Having both procedures performed together improves recovery time and lowers your risk for surgical complications.

Why choose Gundersen?

  • Experience - Gundersen has the largest and most comprehensive heart program in the Tri-State Region, providing a full range of exceptional heart care for patients of all ages.
  • World renowned heart surgeons - Our surgeons are skilled in a variety of procedures including minimally invasive procedures to repair or replace a faulty valve.
  • Valve Clinic - Gundersen has the area’s only dedicated Valve Clinic. It brings together specialists to diagnose, evaluate, treat and provide ongoing management to adult patients with all types of valve problems.
  • Cardiac rehab and exercise programs - Gundersen’s Exercise Physiology team helps you after heart surgery, heart attack or other heart problems. Cardiac rehab includes medically supervised activity, ongoing monitoring, and education about risk factor modification and a heart-healthy lifestyle. With this combination of exercise, education and socialization we can help you achieve and maintain your highest level of function, health and independence.
  • Outreach and telemedicine services - Gundersen heart specialists provide cardiology and cardiothoracic surgery services closer to home for many patients via telemedicine and outreach in a dozen different locations throughout our service area.
  • Research and clinical trials - Dedicated to continually improving care, our heart specialists participate in national and international research studies. We also participate in many clinical trials giving you access to cutting-edge treatments.
  • Top heart program recognition - Gundersen’s heart program has received national recognition and awards often ranking us among the best in the nation for heart care.
  • Gundersen is a recipient of the Healthgrades Coronary Intervention Excellence Award. Gundersen received a five-star rating from Healthgrades for Treatment of Heart Attack. Gundersen received a five-star rating from Healthgrades for Pacemaker Procedures.
  • Diagnostic, testing and imaging services - Gundersen offers state-of-the-art services to help diagnoses, evaluate and monitor your heart valve problems, such as:
Love + Medicine

Every day, Gundersen Health System delivers great medicine plus a little something extra—we call it Love + Medicine.

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