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Why did Arnold Schwarzenegger get heart surgery?

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger, 70, had already undergone a valve replacement in 1997 for a blocked valve
  • This year he was told he needed to replace another valve which had narrowed
  • The operation is only performed on people whose symptoms are very severe, and who have a high risk of complications
  • The former actor and governor was also high risk from his previous operation 

Arnold Schwarzenegger, who underwent elective heart surgery to replace a valve in 1997, was getting a second operation to unblock another valve. Complications led to emergency hour-long open-heart surgery

Arnold Schwarzenegger, 70, was underwent a scheduled minimally invasive procedure called a transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) on Thursday.

The operation is designed for high-risk patients with narrowed valves blocking blood flow, but could suffer dire consequences from open-heart surgery.

However, during the operation the former governor suffered complications which led to hours-long emergency open heart surgery.

He is now stable and recovering at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. 


TAVR operations are performed on people with a condition called aortic stenosis, a narrowing of a heart valve.

Aortic stenosis causes heart weakness, chest pain, fatigue, shortness of breath, heart murmurs or enlarged hearts. It can lead to heart failure and/or premature death.

Those with a mild case of this condition (who barely show symptoms) do not need treatment. Only severe cases (which do show symptoms) require surgery.

In those severe cases, either open-heart surgery or a TAVR can be performed to replace a narrowed valve in the heart.


TAVR operations are often used as a safer bet for people who may have risks with open-heart surgery.

This includes people who have already undergone a valve replacement, as Schwarzenegger did in Mexico in 1997. At the time, he told reporters he’d had no symptoms but elected to get operated in an abundance of caution.

The high-risk bracket also includes patients who show severe symptoms of aortic stenosis. Severe symptoms suggest the person has a high risk of succumbing to their condition if not operated on soon.

Finally, doctors will also endorse a TAVR over open-heart surgery if the patient suffers from other debilitating conditions, like lung disease and kidney disease.


Though the operation is minimally-invasive, it carries a high risk of death, largely because it is performed on high-risk patients:

  • Bleeding
  • Blood vessel complications
  • Problems with the replacement valve, such as the valve slipping out of place or leaking
  • Stroke
  • Heart rhythm abnormalities (arrhythmias)
  • Kidney disease
  • Heart attack
  • Infection
  • Death



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