Alert

Structural & Valvular Heart Care

You have a structural heart condition if you were born with a heart defect or experience valve or heart wall problems due to wear and tear. Get all the services you need—including innovative new treatments—from UNC REX Healthcare’s team of structural and valvular care heart specialists.

Heart Valve Disease & Conditions

Your heart has four chambers and four valves. Normally, these valves help control and direct blood flow through or out of your heart, and then shut to keep it from flowing backward. But sometimes they don't work properly. If they don't, you could have one of these conditions.

Aortic Stenosis

One of the four valves of the heart is the aortic valve, which separates the main pumping chamber of the heart, the left ventricle, from the body. All the blood that the heart pumps to the body must pass through this valve.

Normally this valve should be thin and open easily, allowing blood to pass through without any resistance. When the valve becomes unhealthy, it thickens and calcifies and does not open properly. This can happen for a number of reasons - including congenital defects, rheumatic fever, and prior radiation therapy. By far the most common reason is age related calcification and degeneration of the valve. Narrowing of the aortic valve is called aortic stenosis. 

Mitral Stenosis

The mitral valve separates the left upper chamber (left atrium) from the main pumping chamber of the heart, the left ventricle

A normal mitral valve has two thin delicate leaflets. For a number of reasons, this valve may be thickened and calcified, and will prevent oxygen-rich blood from flowing from the lungs, through the left atrium, to the left ventricle. The most common reason that this happens are rheumatic valve disease in patients who had rheumatic fever as a child; radiation damage in patients who have had chest radiation therapy for various cancers); and degenerative build-up of calcium around the valve (also called mitral annular calcification.) 

Mitral Regurgitation

The mitral valve separates the left upper (left atrium) and left lower (left ventricle) chambers of the heart. When the main pumping chamber of the heart, the left ventricle, pumps blood to the body, all of the blood should go forward to the body. In patients with mitral regurgitation, some of this blood flows backwards into the left upper chamber of the heart and back toward the lungs. Patients with moderate to severe, or severe leakage through this valve, are at risk to develop shortness of breath, heart failure, and damage to the main pump of the heart

Mitral valve disease is a very common problem, affecting almost 10% of patients over the age of 75. If left untreated, severe mitral regurgitation can lead to progressive weakening of the heart muscle, progressive heart failure symptoms, and even death. 

Atrial Septal Defect (ASD)

An atrial septal defect (ASD) is a hole between the upper chambers of the heart, the right atrium and the left atrium.

These defects are present at birth. Some may close on their own, but larger defects allow blood to circulate between the upper chambers, which over time can cause damage to the heart; the right chambers of the heart become enlarged, and can grow weaker. In addition blood pressures in the lungs can rise, a condition called pulmonary hypertension.

Sometimes atrial septal defects can be associated with other genetic  heart diseases, but usually they occur in the absence of any other disease

Treating Heart Valves & Heart Defects

Turn to us when you need one of these advanced procedures.

Valve Repair

If your mitral, aortic or tricuspid valve has trouble controlling blood flow through the heart, a surgeon may reshape or rebuild flaps that open and close the valve. Whenever possible, a UNC REX Healthcare surgeon will perform your procedure using a minimally invasive technique that requires smaller incisions and speeds recovery.

Valve Replacement

Sometimes, a mitral, aortic or tricuspid valve is too damaged for repair. So a surgeon may replace it with a valve made of metal or biological material. Whenever possible, a UNC REX Healthcare surgeon will perform the procedure using a minimally invasive technique that requires smaller incisions and speeds recovery.

If you don’t qualify for surgery to replace the aortic valve, you may benefit from a less-invasive procedure called transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR).

Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR)

Transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) is a minimally invasive procedure to replace the aortic valve in patients who have severe, symptomatic aortic stenosis.

MitraClip®

Your doctor may recommend a new treatment called MitraClip therapy if you don’t qualify for mitral valve surgery. During this procedure, a physician threads a tiny device through an artery in the groin up to your heart and clips the valve to prevent blood from leaking backward.

Valvuloplasty

In a valvuloplasty, a physician threads a tiny balloon through an artery and up to a heart valve that doesn’t open fully because of disease or calcium buildup. When inflated, the balloon widens the valve opening and improves blood flow.

Congenital Heart Defect Correction

Your doctor may recommend a new treatment called MitraClip therapy if you don’t qualify for mitral valve surgery. During this procedure, a physician threads a tiny device through an artery in the groin up to your heart and clips the valve to prevent blood from leaking backward.

WatchmanTM for Atrial Fibrillation Patients

If you have non-valvular atrial fibrillation, the new WatchmanTM device may reduce your risk of stroke. During this procedure, a doctor threads the tiny device through an artery in the groin and up to your heart. Then, the physician places the implant in the left atrial appendage to prevent blood clots from entering the bloodstream and potentially causing a stroke. This treatment offers an alternative to blood-thinning medications.

Meet Our Team

Structural heart and valve disease treatment requires close collaboration between our specialists and cardiac surgeons. A highly trained team of heart and vascular specialists work together with patients on a care plan.  

Research and Clinical Trials

UNC REX Healthcare’s team of structural and valvular care heart specialists participate in a clinical trials and use the latest technology available today to perform advanced treatments for our patients. Ask your physician about open clinical trials available at UNC REX. 

Conscious Sedation Speeds Recovery

When you choose UNC REX Healthcare for your procedure, you may recover sooner and experience fewer side effects thanks to our use of conscious sedation—rather than general anesthesia—whenever appropriate. You’ll receive anesthetic to prevent pain and a sedative for relaxation, but will stay awake during treatment.

North Carolina Heart & Vascular Hospital

The hospital brings together in one location UNC REX's heart and vascular care along with the latest technology for patient care and procedures. Take a virtual tour of the procedure and patient rooms before your visit.

Learn Your Risk

Take an online Heart Aware or Vascular Aware assessment to discover your odds of developing a cardiovascular disease. You’ll find out if you qualify for a free in-person medical screening and consultation.

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