Harvard Heart Letter

No-surgery valve repair puts excitement to the test

Through-the-artery approaches aren't yet ready to replace surgery for failing valves.

Balloon angioplasty, which is done through a small nick over a blood vessel in the groin, revolutionized the treatment of clogged coronary arteries by offering an alternative to open-heart bypass surgery. A similar sea change is in the making for treating faulty heart valves. Doctors, inventors, and engineers around the world are developing and testing ways to fix failing valves without splitting the breastbone and opening the heart.

The benefits of doing this are obvious. Open-heart valve surgery is a big deal. Some people die during or soon after it from a stroke, heart attack, or infection. Recovering from it takes at least three weeks with the less-invasive operation; six weeks or more with the traditional operation. What's holding things up is that the drawbacks and the durability of these new approaches aren't known.

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