Structural Heart Disease

Structural heart disease refers to defects or abnormalities that affect the heart. Some structural problems are congenital, or present at birth. Structural heart disease can also develop later in life due to age, infections, or another health problem.

At the Allegheny Health Network (AHN) Cardiovascular Institute, we bring together leading experts in structural heart disease to provide you with optimal care. Our physicians specialize in catheter-based, minimally invasive heart surgery. This approach means a less painful, faster recovery for you.

Structural heart disease symptoms

In the early stages of structural heart disease, many people won’t experience any symptoms. As it progresses, however, common structural heart disease symptoms may include:

  • Chest pain.
  • Fatigue.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Irregular heartbeats.
  • Fainting.
  • Swelling of the abdomen, feet, or ankles.
  • Kidney dysfunction.

Structural heart disease diagnosis

Some structural heart disease cases are passed down genetically and some are acquired over time. As a person ages, it can be more difficult to diagnose unless symptoms are present. Sometimes a doctor can detect a problem, such as an abnormal heartbeat, by listening to your heart through a stethoscope during a physical exam. If your doctor suspects structural heart disease, several tests can be performed to confirm diagnosis, including:

  • MRI or echocardiogram for a detailed image of the heart.
  • A chest X-ray for a visual of the heart.
  • Electrocardiogram for a recording of the heart’s rhythms.
  • A catheterization procedure to identify if there are any blocked or narrowed blood vessels.

Types of structural heart disease

We treat a wide range of structural heart diseases. Examples include:

Coronary artery fistulas

This condition is usually congenital (present at birth) and occurs when a heart artery abnormally connects to a heart chamber or another blood vessel. A coronary artery fistula can lead to heart failure, abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmia), or other heart conditions.

Heart valve disease

This is due to one or more heart valves opening or closing improperly, interfering with blood flow into and out of the heart. Learn more about heart valve disease.

Holes in the heart

Some people are born with openings, or holes, in the heart. There are different types of openings, including:

Septal defects

An opening forms between the heart’s upper chambers (atria) or lower chambers (ventricles). This congenital problem sometimes heals on its own or may not cause problems. Severe septal defects can lead to pulmonary hypertension and heart failure.

Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA)

An opening, or hole, in the body’s main artery (the aorta) fails to close naturally after birth. In some people, this condition increases the risk of pulmonary hypertension and heart failure. Many people with PDA don’t need treatment.

Patent foramen ovale (PFO)

An opening between the heart’s two upper chambers doesn’t close naturally after birth. In some people, a PFO increases the risk of migraines and strokes. Many people with PFOs don’t need treatment.

Treating structural heart disease at AHN

Our dedicated team of interventional cardiology experts works together to develop a structural heart disease treatment plan specific to your individual needs. When appropriate, we use catheter-based procedures and interventions which make recovery easier. We offer:

Septal defect or PFO closure

Your physician places a mesh patch, or plug, over the opening in your heart (septal defect) via a catheter inserted through a leg or arm artery.

Fistula closure

Your physician places a wire coil over the abnormal connection (fistula) via a catheter inserted through a leg or arm artery.

Left atrial appendage (LAA) closure

AHN is one of a select few medical centers using the WATCHMAN™ device to permanently close the heart’s LAA. People with atrial fibrillation often develop blood clots in the LAA. This device keeps clots from entering the bloodstream and causing a stroke.

Heart valve surgery

We’re a leader in minimally invasive procedures, including transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) and MitraClip®, to repair or replace diseased heart valves. Learn more about heart valve surgery.

Contact us

Call (412) DOCTORS (412) 362-8677 to request an appointment with AHN cardiovascular services.

MitraClip™ is a trademark of Abbott and is used with permission

WATCHMAN™ is a trademark of Boston Scientific Corporation and is used with permission.