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 - Northwestern Memorial Hospital - Chicago

Women & Heart Valve Disease

Valvular heart disease is the third most common cause of heart problems in the United States. There are four valves in the heart that direct blood flow forward through the chambers of the heart. Heart valve disease can occur with any one or a combination of the valves, and it will often lead to heart failure if left untreated.

Diseases of the mitral or aortic valves (the valves of the left side of the heart) are most common, affecting over 5 percent of the population. Heart valve disease implies that a valve either fails to open properly (stenosis) or fails to close properly, allowing backward flow of blood (regurgitation).

Women develop problems with the heart valves just as often as men do and at all ages. In fact, there are some types of valve problems, such as abnormalities resulting from rheumatic fever and mitral valve prolapse, which occur more often in women. Valve disease is a particular challenge for women of childbearing age, since in severe cases it may increase the risk of pregnancy for mother and baby. Older women are also at risk for developing leaky or blocked valves. Women with valvular heart disease therefore deserve special attention.

The Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute of Northwestern Memorial Hospital's Center for Heart Valve Disease is led by Robert O. Bonow, MD, and Patrick M. McCarthy, MD.

Dr. Bonow is recognized internationally for his expertise, research and teaching on both aortic and mitral valve disease. He was recently the chairman of the American Heart Association/American College of Cardiology (AHA/ACC) Task Force on the Management of Patients With Valvular Heart Disease. This Task Force updated the practice guidelines that assist physicians in clinical decision making for the prevention, diagnosis, and management of heart valve disease. Dr. McCarthy is a renowned cardiovascular surgeon and an innovator of valve repair techniques. He recently designed a mitral valve prosthetic ring that is used to repair leaking mitral valves and it is regarded as one of the best devices available.

It is a priority among the cardiologists and cardiac surgeons at the Center for Heart Valve Disease to repair rather than replace heart valves whenever possible to preserve a patient's own heart valve so that blood thinning (anticoagulation) medications are not required. When patients have combined disease of both the aortic valve and the ascending aorta (the large vessel that houses the aortic valve and takes blood out of the heart), the Center for Heart Valve Disease strives to replace the diseased aorta and repair the aortic valve usinga technique known as "valve-sparing aortic root replacement."

Patients that come to the Center for Heart Valve Disease also benefit from sophisticated imaging technology that can detect and evaluate some types of heart valve disease even before symptoms appear. The Center utilizes state-of- the-art noninvasive imaging for valvular heart disease, which includes dual source 64-slice CTA , echocardiography, and cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to view and study valvular heart disease.

Current clinical research trials at the Center for Heart Valve Disease include the evaluation of new valve repair and replacement techniques, new anticoagulation therapies, and the effects of certain drug treatments on heart valve disease. Techniques to utilize smaller, cosmetically appealing incisions have been championed by the Center's surgeons. These techniques can allow a more comfortable recovery and help patients return to their lives and day-to-day activities more quickly.


For more information regarding heart valve disease, please contact the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at 1-866-662-8467 or request a first time appointment online.

For more information regarding clinical trials related to heart valve disease, please view the Clinical Trials Unit of Northwestern page, send an email or call 312-926-4000.


Last UpdateNovember 26, 2012