Heart Valve Surgery

What is heart valve surgery?

The heart has four valves, which let blood exit or enter a chamber of the heart, and then close to keep blood from flowing backward. When a valve becomes diseased and malfunctions, heart valve surgery may be needed to repair or replace the faulty valves.

The most commonly replace valves are the aortic valve and the mitral valve The replacement of the other two valves, pulmonary and tricuspid, is fairly uncommon in adults.

Some of the conditions that require heart valve surgery include

  • Stenosis (narrowed or blocked)
  • Regurgitation (leaking)

Repair or replace?

Sometimes, a malfunctioning valve can be repaired. Your surgeon can cut and separate the areas of the valve that have hardened to help them open wider. Parts of an insufficient valve may also be strengthened and shortened to help the valve close more tightly.

If the valve can’t be repaired, it can be replaced with a mechanical valve, created from man-made materials, or biological (tissue) replacement valve, taken from a pig, cow, or human donor.

Surgical options for replacing a valve include:

  • Mechanical valve — valve made of long-lasting, durable materials
  • Tissue valve — from human or animal donor tissue
  • Ross Procedure — “Borrowing” a healthy valve and moving it to the position of the malfunctioning valve
  • TAVI/TAVR procedure — Transcatheter aortic valve replacement

Which type of valve do I need?

Each type of replacement valve has its benefits: Mechanical valves last longer, but will require lifetime therapy with anticoagulant medication, to prevent blood clots on or around the valve. Tissue valves don't last as long as mechanical valves, but have the advantage of often not requiring long-term anticoagulant medication.

Which valve you need depends on factors such as:

  • your age
  • your occupation
  • the size of your valve
  • how well your heart is working
  • your heart's rhythm
  • your ability to take anticoagulant medications
  • how many new valves you need

Talk with your doctor to discuss which type of valve is best for you.