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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 valves

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, heart 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.

Transcatheter Mitral Valve Repair (TMVR) is a minimally invasive procedure for some patients with mitral regurgitation to repair a faulty mitral valve that doesn't close properly.

Learn more

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.

Depending on which heart valve and the patient’s health, a heart valve may be replaced in a surgical (open heart) procedure or using a less invasive catheter-base procedure such as:

  • Transcatheter aortic valve replacement or TAVR, a minimally invasive procedure used to treat some patients with aortic valve stenosis, a narrowing of the valve in the main heart artery due to calcium deposits

    Learn more

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 care for adult patients with all types of valve problems. A Valve Clinic coordinator reviews your medical records prior to your visit, and schedules appointments and consultations with the necessary specialists—generally all in a single visit. The Valve Clinic team may:
    • Provide only the initial consultation with follow-up care provided by your regular doctor
    • Provide ongoing management of your valve problem
    • Involve our heart failure team or cardiac surgery team
  • 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.
  • Diagnostic, testing and imaging services - Gundersen offers state-of-the-art services to help diagnoses, evaluate and monitor your heart valve problems, such as:
what to expect

We've taken steps at all our locations to keep you and our staff healthy and safe. Here's what to expect when you visit us.

Stay safe