NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 2, 2004

Mitral valve regurgitation (MR), often referred to as a leaky valve, is estimated to strike four million Americans. Blood flows through the heart and leaks back through the faulty mitral valve into the left atrium, a condition that causes the heart and lungs to swell and can lead to cardiac arrest.

Currently, the only way to solve the problem is through painful and expensive open-heart surgery. But now, a number of firms are developing less-invasive ways to repair heart valves, promising patients less pain, shorter hospital stays and faster recovery times.

  • Proponents say the less-invasive procedures, which are typically performed by cardiologists rather than surgeons, have the potential to revolutionize the $900 million heart-valve market in much the same way stents have replaced coronary-artery bypass surgery for many patients.
  • But some surgeons warn of potential complications and question whether the less-invasive fix will last as long as surgical repairs.
  • Today, nearly half of the 90,000 patients who undergo open-heart surgery for valve repair each year suffer from mitral valve problems, according to the American Heart Association.

One promising treatment, known as the Evalve procedure, requires doctors to insert a catheter into the femoral artery in the groin and thread it up into the heart. Then a tiny alloy clip is sent through the catheter and attached to the flaps of the mitral valve. The clip helps the flaps close properly, preventing leakage.

  • The operation lasts two to four hours, and patients usually are discharged the next day and resume their daily routines within a week.
  • By contrast, a patient who has an open-heart valve operation normally stays in the hospital four to six days, and takes about a month to recover on average.

Source: Paul Davies, "Plugging the Leak." Wall Street Journal, October 11, 2004.

For WSJ text (subscription required),,SB109716279447539261-search,00.html


Browse more articles on Health Issues