Cardiac Surgery: Conditions We Treat

ConditionsHeart Valve Disease

The heart has four valves - mitral, aortic, tricuspid, and pulmonary - that regulate the flow of blood through the heart's four chambers. Each valve consists of flaps, or leaflets, that function like one-way swinging doors to allow blood to flow to the next chamber, and then close tightly to prevent blood from flowing backward.

Valves can malfunction in two ways. One problem is leakage, or regurgitation, in which valves do not completely close, allowing blood to flow in reverse. The second valve disorder is stenosis, in which the valve narrows, limiting how much blood can flow to the next chamber. Both conditions can significantly diminish the heart's ability to pump blood. The two most common heart valve diseases are mitral regurgitation and aortic stenosis.

Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common form of heart disease. CAD occurs when the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart muscle, become hardened and narrowed. Arteries harden and narrow because of the buildup of plaque (fatty deposits) on their inner walls, a phenomenon known as atherosclerosis. As the plaque accumulates, the arteries grow narrower, restricting the flow of blood to the heart and starving the heart muscle of oxygen.

Aortic Aneurysm

An aortic aneurysm is an abnormal enlargement in the wall of the aorta, the largest artery in the body. The aneurysm typically occurs in a weakened portion of the artery's wall, causing it to bulge outward. If left untreated, an aortic aneurysm may rupture, causing serious complications such as internal bleeding. Most thoracic aortic aneurysms are caused by atherosclerosis, a condition in which fatty deposits build up on the inner walls of the arteries, causing them to harden and narrow.

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial Fibrillation is the most common form of abnormal heart rhythm or arrhythmia. Over two million Americans are living with atrial fibrillation. Although it is not life-threatening, it can cause uncomfortable symptoms. It can also cause other problems such as congestive heart failure and stroke.

Some people are not symptomatic with atrial fibrillation. Other people can feel one or more of the following symptoms: palpitations, fluttering, shortness of breath, particularly with exertion such as climbing a flight of stairs or walking up an incline, chest pressure or discomfort and lightheadedness.

Heart Failure

Heart failure is a condition in which the heart muscle grows progressively weaker and cannot pump enough blood to meet the body's needs for oxygen and nutrients. Heart failure can result from a variety of conditions. The most common cause is a heart attack that damages the heart muscle. Heart failure can also stem from problems with the heart's valves, rheumatic heart disease, bacterial infections, and congenital defects. Other causes of heart failure include abnormal heart rhythms, diseases of the heart muscle, high blood pressure, and diseases involving other organs.

Elderly and High Risk

It is a false assumption that the elderly patient is destined to a steady decline after heart surgery. Although advanced age can be considered a risk factor, age alone should not be a reason to exclude patients from heart surgery. NYU research and experience has shown that many elderly patients facing heart surgery can anticipate an improved quality of life, not a slower decline in activity.

A patient can be considered high risk if their history includes multiple additional risk factors an acute episode of cardiac dysfunction, re-operative heart surgery, or severely advanced heart failure.  Many high risk patients have structural heart defects that can be repaired with surgery, often with tremendous improvements in cardiac function and quality of life.

Our cardiac surgery team at NYU also specializes in the surgical care of elderly and high risk patients.

Congenital Heart Disease

A congenital heart defect is a heart abnormality that is present at birth. The most common ones are holes in the walls separating the chambers of the heart, malformed heart valves and narrowed, reversed, or missing blood vessels.  Overall, there are more than two dozen types of heart defects. The most common ones are atrial and ventricular septal defects (holes in the walls separating the chambers of the heart).

Many heart defects are mild, and some do not produce symptoms until later in life, if at all. However, a number of heart abnormalities significantly affect how blood flows to the lungs and the rest of the body, producing severe symptoms at birth or during early childhood.