If one of the four valves in the heart is narrow (stenotic), the heart can have difficulty passing blood through it. This can cause excessive strain on the heart. In many situations, a narrow valve can be opened using an interventional procedure—one performed using thin tubes (called catheters) that are inserted in a blood vessel to deliver treatments. These procedures are performed in a hospital’s catheterization lab and are less invasive than open-heart surgery.
To perform the valve opening procedure (valvuloplasty), a suitable blood vessel in the legs, arms, or neck is entered through a small puncture site in the skin, and catheters and special thin wires are used to cross the valve. An x-ray picture is taken and the size of the valve is measured, along with the nearby structures. A special catheter that has a specifically sized balloon on the tip is passed over a wire through the blood vessel to the heart. The balloon is inflated inside the valve to stretch it open. The balloon is then deflated and this catheter and wire are removed from the body. The success of the procedure is measured again and another picture is usually taken using the x-ray machine.
The results of the valvuloplasty procedure should be known immediately. In some cases, this procedure may have to be repeated as the child grows.