The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently approved the transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) for appropriate patients with aortic valve stenosis who are not candidates for open surgery to replace their natural aortic valve. The procedure resembles a balloon angioplasty, in which a catheter – a long, flexible tube – is threaded through an artery and a balloon device on the end inflates to help open up a narrowing in an artery in the heart. In the case of TAVR, the replacement valve collapses to a very small diameter and is crimped onto the balloon device. The surgeon positions the replacement valve inside the patient’s natural aortic valve and inflates the balloon. This causes the replacement valve to expand, pushing the faulty valve aside. The replacement valve begins to function as soon as the balloon catheter deflates to permit the flow of blood.

Patients usually enjoy immediate benefit from the procedure in terms of improved blood circulation. Because the replacement valve is placed using minimally invasive techniques, patients usually experience a much more rapid recovery than they would from a traditional, open-heart valve replacement.