Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger, 75, is recovering after undergoing heart valve surgery earlier this week. In an Instagram post on Friday, Jagger wrote that he was “feeling much better now and on the mend” after having the procedure at a New York hospital. reported Billboard.
The prodedure Jagger had is called a transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR). Health spoke to a cardiac surgeon to find out what TAVR involves and what Jagger’s recovery entails.
“People need this procedure because they have aortic stenosis—the stiffening and the narrowing of one of the heart valves,” says Gilbert Tang, MD, surgical director of the Structural Heart Program at Mount Sinai Health System in New York City. Patients with aortic stenosis can experience fatigue, lightheadedness, chest pressure, and, in severe cases, shortness of breath, as the heart struggles to pump blood to other parts of the body. “People feel like there’s something heavy on their chest,” he adds.
Aortic stenosis can’t be treated with medication because it’s a “mechanical problem,” Dr. Tang explains, caused by the wear and tear a heart valve endures over the years. Patients who undergo a TAVR procedure are usually in their eighties and nineties. “It’s age-related in the sense that young people typically do not get this condition unless they are born with an abnormal heart valve,” he says. “Because it’s a mechanical problem, there’s no medication that can reverse the process.”
The first TAVR procedure was performed more than 15 years ago. Before then, a person with aortic stenosis in need of a valve replacement would have to have open heart surgery. There were two options: a mechanical valve, made of a plastic-like material or a metal, or a tissue valve, made from pig or cow tissue.
The TAVR procedure still involves a cow or pig tissue valve, but open heart surgery is not needed. During the procedure, a doctor inserts the tissue valve into the patient through the groin. Doctors run a catheter through the femoral artery, the artery that goes from the groin to the heart. “What we do is compress the valve on the stent into a catheter, which is about the size of a pencil,” Dr. Tang says.
“The valve, when it comes out of the box, is about the size of your thumb, mounted on a stent, which is flexible. [The] stent can be compressed down to the size of a pencil. The groin artery is usually large enough to accomodate that catheter. Then you deploy the valve inside the existing heart valve. It pushes the existing heart valve out of the way.”
The new valve takes over function immediately. “This is all done on a beating heart,” says Dr. Tang.
Recovery time is pretty minimal; patients can go home1-2 days afterward. Potential complications include heart attacks and strokes, but these affect no more than 1% of people who undergo a TAVR procedure, according to Dr. Tang.
Following the procedure, patients are advised to take it easy for a while, and doctors pay close attention to how the groin artery heals. “After they go home, we do advise patients after this procedure not to lift any heavy groceries to allow the groin to heal up properly,” Dr. Tang says. He also says patients are asked to refrain from driving for a week.
The minimally invasive procedure has a success rate of over 95%, and patients usually make a full recovery, says Dr. Tang. “The technology has really leaped forward over the last 15 years when the first implantation was done. That’s the beauty of this procedure: We have people go back to work one to two weeks afterward. It really is transformative to these patients’ lives,” Dr. Tang says.
Jagger and his band were scheduled to start touring this month, but the tour has been pushed back to July, when Jagger is expected to be fully recovered.
Maybe getting old isn’t such a drag, after all.
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