The heart has four valves: Mitral, tricuspid, aortic, and pulmonary. The purpose of each valve is to open enough to let blood flow through into the next heart chamber, and then to close to prevent the blood from flowing backward. Heart valve surgery aims to repair or replace a damaged or defective valve.
The aortic and mitral valves are the most common focuses of heart valve surgery. The aortic valve is usually replaced. The mitral valve is usually repaired. The tricuspid and pulmonary valves are less frequently the focus of surgery.
What does it involve?
Heart valve surgery may be performed alone or during another heart surgery such as coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG). Heart valves may be repaired or replaced. Valves may be replaced with either artificial (also known as mechanical or prosthetic) valves or biological valves made of human or animal tissue.
You will be under general anesthetic for heart valve surgery. Depending on the type of heart valve surgery you are having, the surgeon may use open-heart technique or a newer, less invasive method such as keyhole surgery, which is performed using very small incisions, or robotic procedures.
In open-heart surgery, the surgeon makes a long incision down the chest, cuts the sternum in half, and spreads the rib cage apart. The heart is then temporarily stopped while grafting surgery is performed. While the heart is stopped, blood will continue to be pumped through the body by a cardiopulmonary bypass (heart-lung) machine. Once the valve repair or replacement is complete, the heart is restarted, and normal blood flow is restored. The surgeon will then close the chest.
After heart valve surgery, you will spend one or two days in the intensive care unit (ICU) where your condition can be monitored regularly. You will continue recovery in another part of the hospital for an additional three to five days before returning home. You can expect to return to work and resume normal activities after four to eight weeks. Your cardiologist may recommend cardiac rehabilitation after heart valve surgery.
Heart valve surgery has a high success rate. This procedure can relieve symptoms and prolong life.
Any surgery carries risks of complications including blood clots, blood loss, infection, breathing problems, reactions to medication, kidney failure, heart attack or stroke during the surgery, and death. Complications specific to heart surgery include postpericardiotomy syndrome, which can cause chest pain and low-grade fever lasting several months.
You may need to take blood thinners for the rest of your life following heart valve replacement. This is more likely if you receive an artificial valve, since artificial valves are known to develop blood clots.
Biological replacement valves last 12 to 15 years. Artificial valves last eight to 20 years. You may require additional heart valve surgery in the future to repair or replace the new valve.
For more details about this treatment, visit:
Heart valve surgery – MedlinePlus
What is heart valve surgery? (PDF) – American Heart Association
Heart valve surgery – Mayo Clinic