Heart valve repair or replacement surgery is a treatment option for heart valve disease. In heart valve disease, one or more of the four heart valves that keep blood flowing in the correct direction through your heart doesn't function properly. In heart valve surgery, your surgeon repairs or replaces your heart valve.

Types of Heart Valve Surgery

Heart Valve Repair

Heart valve specialists and surgeons agree that whenever possible a heart valve should be repaired rather than replaced. Heart valve repair leaves you with your normally functioning tissue, which resists infection more effectively, and you don't need to take blood-thinning medications after the surgery.

If you have mild to moderate heart valve disease, your surgeon often performs heart valve repair. If your heart valve isn't closing properly (regurgitation), your surgeon may treat your condition using one of three surgeries.

  • Annuloplasty. In this procedure, your surgeon tightens the ring of tissue around the valve to help the valve flaps (leaflets) come together. Sometimes your surgeon will implant a ring where the leaflets meet to make the valve opening smaller so the leaflets can come together.
  • Repair of structural support. In this procedure, your surgeon replaces or shortens the cords that support the valves (chordae tendineae and papillary muscles) to repair the structural support. When the cords and muscles are the right length, the valve leaflet edges meet and eliminate the leak.
  • Valve leaflet repair. In valve leaflet repair, your surgeon surgically separates, cuts or pleats a valve flap (leaflet) to repair a floppy or prolapsed valve leaflet.

Heart Valve Replacement

Surgery may be needed to replace diseased valves when symptoms are severe or your health becomes compromised. After discussing the options and receiving your input, the surgeon will determine which type of valve will be used based on your age and condition:

  • Bovine pericardial tissue valve (from cow tissue)
  • Porcine valve (from pigs)
  • Homograft valve (from deceased human donors)
  • Mechanical valve (artificial)
    • With a mechanical valve, you will need anticoagulation therapy (blood thinners) for life. This will prevent blood clots from forming around your mechanical valve.

Risks

Possible risks associated with heart valve repair or replacement surgery include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Bleeding
  • Heart attack
  • Infection
  • Irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia)
  • Stroke
  • Surgery needed for a new valve, in some instances, if the heart valve fails over time

While all open heart surgeries involve some risk, major complications are rare because of improved technology and surgical techniques. Most heart valve repair and replacement surgeries are successful. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your doctor prior to the procedure.

Results

Heart valve surgery can result in:

  • Improved quality of life
  • Prolonged life
  • Reduced symptoms

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