A healthy heart beats an average 100,000 times per day, working hard to pump oxygen-rich blood throughout your body. The aortic valve controls the blood exiting through your heart as it’s pumped into the body. When an aortic valve narrows, usually due to a buildup of calcium, it can prevent your heart from emptying blood. If left untreated, most patients will develop heart failure and around half of these patients will die within three years. Clearly, it’s important that your heart valves function well to support you through life. Luckily, there is a breakthrough minimally invasive treatment available for this common disease. Read on to learn more.

What are the symptoms of aortic stenosis?

A cardiologist can detect a heart valve problem by discussing your symptoms, listening to your heart, and performing tests such as a physical examination, cardiac catheterisation, CT scan, echocardiogram, carotid ultrasound, and frailty testing. Common symptoms may include:

  • chest pain or tightness.
  • feeling faint or fainting.
  • dizziness.
  • fatigue.
  • shortness of breath.
  • irregular heartbeat.
  • heart murmur.

The transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI) procedure

The historical treatment of aortic valve disease was open heart surgery which is a big undertaking at any stage in life — particularly in patients above 75. Depending on your diagnosis, your cardiologist may recommend a transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI). A TAVI is a replacement heart valve made from the heart tissue of a pig and a Nitinol (nickel-titanium) metal frame, designed to control blood flow naturally. It’s inserted into the heart using a thin, flexible tube (known as a catheter) through one of several access routes, though often through the groin. TAVI procedures are performed under a light anaesthetic, allowing you to maintain consciousness without pain for a faster recovery. Since this procedure is minimally invasive, many patients are up and walking within a few days after having the procedure, and are often out of hospital within a few days to a week.

What are the benefits of a TAVI?

Recent studies show that TAVI offers outcomes compared to traditional ‘surgical’ aortic valve replacement in low, intermediate, and high-risk patients — specifically early improvement in quality of life and reduction in death and major strokes at the four-year follow-up. Surgical treatment remains the gold standard for patients 65 and under which relates to the use of metallic valves which are more durable but require lifelong Warfarin medication. After a TAVI procedure, you may start feeling better right away because your heart is now able to pump the right amount of blood around your body. A light blood thinner (aspirin) is typically required long-term after TAVI. Many patients report:

  • feeling more energetic.
  • better breathing.
  • reduced pain.
  • reduced anxiety.

Case Study: Elizabeth’s Story

Elizabeth, an 89-year old woman, presented to her GP feeling breathless. Elizabeth was referred to Central Heart with a significant heart murmur where Associate Professor Tom Ford used a echocardiogram (heart ultrasound) to diagnose a severe aortic valve stenosis. “My appetite was poor, and I became breathless when doing my usual jobs around the house, and gardening became difficult,” said Elizabeth. Associate Professor Ford discussed the treatment options with Elizabeth and her family, and together they decided to proceed with an urgent TAVI performed through the groin. “When I had my interview with Dr Ford, I had no hesitation in going ahead with a TAVI as I knew my breathing would continue to get worse, and I would no longer be able to continue my active lifestyle of walking and playing indoor bowls,” she said. Elizabeth was in hospital in Sydney for just two days before being discharged. “The TAVI was no problem at all, and all the doctors and staff at Central Heart were wonderful,” said Elizabeth. “My daughter took me to her home where I stayed for three nights,” she added. “I felt fine, and on the first morning there, she took me out for a short walk, then to a cafe for morning tea. The woman at the next table couldn’t get over how well I looked when my daughter told her I was just out of hospital after having a heart valve operation! After a few weeks I was back playing indoor bowls, doing light housework, and gardening.” Today Elizabeth maintains her independence at home and, at a recent six-month follow-up, was shown to be in good health. “I now enjoy my usual lifestyle with no breathing problems at all. My advice to anyone who is suffering [from severe aortic stenosis and considering a TAVI] is ‘go for it.’”

Contact Central Heart to find out how we can help

Central Heart is a specialist cardiology practice providing advanced diagnostic tools and minimally invasive treatment options for patients based on the Central Coast. While this procedure is not yet performed on the Central Coast, Associate Professor Ford teams up with his friend and structural interventional cardiologist Dr Virag Kushwaha for a dual operator procedure at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Randwick. Their heart team includes experienced imaging cardiologist and specialised cardiac anaesthetists at Eastern Heart Clinic where he trained in Sydney. If you want to explore if TAVI is an option for you, contact our friendly team.