Barbara Walters' Heart Surgery 'Went Well,' Doctors Say of the Television Veteran

"Degenerative aortic stenosis is the most common valve problem in patients over 70 years of age, and as the population ages it is now the most common valve problem in the industrialized world," said Dr. Aubrey Galloway, professor and chair of the department of cardiothoracic surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center. "Valve replacement surgery is the primary treatment for this problem, and surgery generally returns the patient to normal functional status, with a life expectancy to that is equal to the general age-matched population without aortic stenosis."

Walters' procedure most likely involved open-heart surgery, during which doctors replaced her aortic valve with a mechanical valve made of metal, one made of biological tissue, a transplanted valve from a donor heart or even her own valve from another part of her heart.

Galloway said that minimally-invasive options are also available, and "the long term track record and results are good, generally returning to full activity in 6-8 weeks."

Doctors said that while the signs that an aortic valve needs to be replaced can be subtle, the symptoms worsen as the condition progresses.

Signs of a Heart Valve Problem -- and What to Do About Them

Fortunately, doctors can detect the first signs of this condition with a few simple and painless tests. Some of these tests rely on technology -- for example, an electrocardiogram, or EKG, which detects abnormal electrical activity in the heart, and an echocardiogram, which uses sound waves to create a moving picture of the heart.

Other tests require little more than a stethoscope.

"In the absence of symptoms and with a normal heart exam, EKG and [echocardiogram] are not necessary," said Dr. Cam Patterson, director of the McAllister Heart Institute and chief of cardiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Regardless of the tests that a patient and her doctor choose, however, Walters said the worst thing a woman could do if she feels that she is experiencing heart symptoms is nothing.

"Women tend to ignore symptoms," she said. "Husbands always complain and women send them to the doctor, but they never go themselves."

Walters created "The View" in 1997 and has been a fixture on the ABC daytime talk show since its inception. She served as co-host of ABC News' "20/20" for 25 years and continues to contribute special broadcasts to the network.

Dr. Kelly Kyanko contributed to this report.

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