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Experts Draft New Valvular Heart Disease Guidelines

These disorders include heart murmurs, endocarditis

FRIDAY, June 16, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Using the latest data, the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the American Heart Association have released updated guidelines for treating and diagnosing valvular heart disease.

Valvular heart disease affects blood flow through the mitral or aortic valves. In 2003, about 20,000 patients in the United States died from valvular heart disease, and 95,000 underwent procedures for the condition.

The revised guidelines, presented Thursday at the ACC's Heart Valve Summit in Chicago, offer information on examining and treating patients with conditions like heart murmurs, concomitant coronary artery disease, endocarditis and patients who are pregnant.

"These guidelines highlight major advances in noninvasive testing and surgery for patients with valvular heart disease," study author Dr. Robert O. Bonow, chief of cardiology at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, said in a prepared statement. "There have always been areas of uncertainty and differences of opinion on how to diagnose and treat patients with valvular heart disease. Today we have much more solid data to draw on." Bonow is also the Goldberg Distinguished Professor of Cardiology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

New guidelines offer specific recommendations on treatments for various combinations of patient age, gender and medical history.

"The guidelines encourage physicians to look behind the scenes, rather than waiting for symptoms to develop," Dr. Patrick T. O'Gara, director of clinical cardiology at Brigham and Women's Hospital and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, said in a prepared statement. "For example, an abnormal response to exercise could help identify patients with aortic stenosis who may be candidates for surgery sooner rather than later."

Other updates to treatments include surgery to repair valves instead of replacing them, and use of transesophogeal echocardiography during surgery for better, more accurate images of the heart. There are also new recommendations on the use of blood thinners following surgery, as well as new information on prevention.

"It is important for patients to understand that we have much better data today, but we still don't have all the answers. Patients need to discuss their care with their physicians and play a major role in making treatment decisions," Bonow said.

More information

Visit the American Academy of Family Physicians to find out more about valvular heart disease.

SOURCES: American College of Cardiology, news release, June 16, 2006
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