(WASHINGTON) -- For years, surgeons have replaced or repaired failing valves that regulate blood flow into and out of patients' heart chambers. About 30 percent of those with a condition called aortic stenosis are too old or too sick for surgery, however, so they struggle along, often disabled by chest pain as they fight for breath. But that may be changing.
MedPage Today reports that instead of surgery, doctors can successfully implant a new valve into the heart by placing it into an artery in the groin and carefully threading up into the heart.
Patients who received new valves this way, in a technique called transcatheter aortic valve implantation, or TAVI, had a 20 percent lower mortality rate at one year than similar patients who received only medical therapy or who had medical therapy, plus a balloon that forced open the valve. Moreover, researchers found the interventional procedure using a device called the Sapien heart-valve system reduced the combined endpoint of death from any cause or rehospitalization by almost 30 percent compared with standard treatment.
The one negative note was the rate of stroke or major bleeding at 30 days -- 12 strokes and 30 major bleeds in the TAVI arm versus three strokes and two major bleeding events in the control group, but by one year the difference in the stroke rate was just 5 percent.
Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio.