Valvular Heart Surgery

Heart valve surgery is used to repair or replace diseased heart valves.
Blood that flows between different chambers of your heart must flow through a heart valve. Blood that flows out of your heart into large arteries must also flow through a heart valve.
These valves open up enough so that blood can flow through. They then close, keeping blood from flowing backward.

There are 4 valves in your heart:

  • Aortic valve
  • Mitral valve
  • Tricuspid valve
  • Pulmonic valve

The aortic valve is the most common valve to be replaced. The mitral valve is the most common valve to be repaired. Only rarely is the tricuspid valve or the pulmonic valve repaired or replaced.

Description

Before your surgery, you will receive general anesthesia. You will be asleep and unable to feel pain.
In open heart surgery, the surgeon makes a large surgical cut in your breastbone to reach the heart and aorta. You are connected to a heart-lung bypass machine.Your heart is stopped while you are connected to this machine. This machine does the work of your heart, providing oxygen and removing carbon dioxide.

Minimally invasive valve surgery is done through much smaller cuts than open surgery, or through a catheter inserted through the skin. Several different techniques are used:

  • Percutaneous surgery (through the skin)
  • Robot-assisted surgery

If your surgeon can repair your mitral valve, you may have:

  • Ring annuloplasty. The surgeon repairs the ring-like part around the valve by sewing a ring of plastic, cloth, or tissue around the valve.
  • Valve repair. The surgeon trims, shapes, or rebuilds one or more of the leaflets of the valve. The leaflets are flaps that open and close the valve. Valve repair is best for the mitral and tricuspid valves. The aortic valve is usually not repaired.

If your valve is too damaged, you will need a new valve. This is called valve replacement surgery. Your surgeon will remove your valve and put a new one in place. The main types of new valves are:

  • Mechanical - made of man-made materials, such as metal (stainless steel or titanium) or ceramic. These valves last the longest, but you will need to take blood-thinning medicine, such as warfarin (Coumadin) or aspirin, for the rest of your life.
  • Biological - made of human or animal tissue. These valves last 12 to 15 years, but you may not need to take blood thinners for life.

In some cases, surgeons can use your own pulmonic valve to replace the damaged aortic valve. The pulmonic valve is then replaced with an artificial valve (this is called the Ross Procedure). This procedure may be useful for people who do not want to take blood thinners for the rest of their life. However, the new aortic valve does not last very long and may need to be replaced again by either a mechanical or a biologic valve.