Percutaneous balloon valvuloplasty is a minimally invasive procedure used to open narrowed heart valves. The procedure is performed with a thin tube (catheter) that has a small deflated balloon at its tip (balloon-tipped catheter). The catheter is advanced up to the heart and into the opening of the narrowed heart valve. The balloon is inflated to stretch the valve open and relieve the valve obstruction. The procedure is performed in a cardiac catheterization laboratory that has a special x-ray machine and an x-ray monitor.
It is performed on children and adults who have a narrowed heart valve, a condition called stenosis. The goal of the procedure is to improve valve function and blood flow by enlarging the valve opening. It is sometimes used to avoid or delay open heart surgery and valve replacement.
There are four valves in the heart—the aortic valve, pulmonary valve, mitral valve, and tricuspid valve—each at the exit of one of the heart's four chambers. These valves open and close to regulate the blood flow from one chamber to the next and are vital to the efficient functioning of the heart and circulatory system. Narrowing of these valves can be corrected by open heart surgery or at times with balloon valvuloplasty when medical treatment has not corrected or relieved the related problems.
Valvular stenosis can be a congenital defect (develops in the fetus and is present at birth) or can be acquired, that is to stem from other conditions such as rheumatic fever or calcium build up on the valve. Symptoms of valve stenosis may include heart failure, chest pain (angina), irregular heart beat (arrhythmia), or fainting spells (syncope).
Valvular heart problems are diagnosed by a qualified health care professional after taking a thorough history and performing a physical exam. If a heart valve problem is suspected further testing is performed by obtaining an electrocardiogram (ECG), ultrasound of the heart (echocardiogram) and if needed cardiac catheterization.
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