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Mick Jagger's having his heart valve replaced. The technology is better than ever

Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger is scheduled to undergo surgery to replace a valve in his heart, according to a source close to the band.

Posted: Apr 2, 2019 7:30 PM
Updated: Apr 2, 2019 7:30 PM

Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger is having a heart valve replaced this week, a source close to the band tells CNN.

The band announced the postponement of its North American tour last week, citing an unspecified medical condition. "Mick has been advised by doctors that he cannot go on tour at this time, as he needs medical treatment," a statement from the band reads.

The Sun reported that Jagger, 75, "will be undergoing a non-invasive heart valve procedure," hoping to be out of the hospital within a couple of days and performing again by summer. The report does not identify the specific valve or the reason it needed to be replaced. A representative for Jagger declined further comment to CNN.

"One of the most remarkable achievements, really, of the 20th century is the fact that we're able to operate on people's heart valves," said Dr. Ashish Shah, chairman of cardiac surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, who is not involved in Jagger's care.

Normally, the heart's four valves allow blood to pump in one direction and then snap shut to prevent backflow. But sometimes, they don't work as they should, causing symptoms like shortness of breath and swelling. Life expectancy begins to drop as those symptoms appear, Shah said.

In one scenario, the valve can calcify and narrow as we age, putting pressure on the heart, "like putting your finger on the end of a garden hose," he explained. "Or valves can get really leaky, and that means the heart then has to work a little bit extra to get the blood to go in the right direction."

It's most often the aortic valve that is replaced in adults, according to the US National Library of Medicine. This valve ushers oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body.

Another valve that sits between the heart's two left chambers, the mitral valve, may also become leaky as some people age. But that valve is more commonly repaired than it is replaced, according to Dr. Robert Bonow, professor of cardiology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. He is not involved in Jagger's care.

Bonow described these defective valves as "rusty gates" that, depending on the condition, don't open or close properly. "And with time, it gets rustier," added Bonow, who is also a past president of the American Heart Association.

The good news: Doctors have an arsenal of safe and effective ways to fix defective heart valves. "If you don't have any other medical problems, your life expectancy comes back almost to normal," Shah said.

With traditional heart valve surgery, which involves making incisions into the chest, patients tend to stay in the hospital for three to seven days, but it may take four to six weeks to fully heal, according to the US National Library of Medicine. Mechanical valves can last decades but require patients to go on blood thinners, while tissue valves tend to last 12 to 15 years but can also be fixed through less-invasive procedures.

One less-invasive procedure is called transcatheter aortic valve replacement or TAVR. The procedure "wedges a replacement valve into the aortic valve's place" through a small tube without having to remove the old valve, according to the American Heart Association. The tube can be inserted into an artery in the groin or via a small incision in the chest. Patients typically stay in the hospital for only a couple of days, Bonow said.

This replacement has been approved for use in high-risk patients for whom doctors would rather avoid more invasive surgery. However, research last month revealed strong outcomes for healthier patients at lower risk, too.

"This has been a major advance, not only over the last 15 years but just in the last couple of weeks," said Bonow, who was not involved in the trials. He added that he expects the procedure to gain regulatory approval for a wider group of patients with the new findings.

"It's a dramatic change, and I think that we're going to see certainly more patients being offered a life-saving and life-improving therapy," said Shah, who was also not involved in the trials.

"With these catheter platforms, the morbidity and the downtime for the patient is dramatically less," he said. "What we don't know is about durability and long term -- how these valves ... will perform over the course of 10 to 15 years."

Shah said it's important for people to seek treatment, regardless of how old, active or inactive they are.

"We do have a lot of tools at our disposal," he said. "Some of them old, some of them new, but they really can make people feel a lot better."

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