If you are suffering from severe heart valve disease, your physician may recommend a heart valve replacement surgery. Valve replacement is usually a last resort, as valve repair is a much less complex procedure.
If you’re weighing potential treatment options, schedule an appointment for a second opinion from SSM Health Heart & Vascular Care. Our team of renowned cardiovascular surgeons will evaluate your health history, the severity of your disease and your surgical risks to determine the best option for treatment.
What is Heart Valve Replacement Surgery?
Heart valve replacement is a viable option for treating aortic valve disease and mitral valve disease, including stenosis or regurgitation. With valve stenosis, the valve will not completely open, limiting blood flow through the heart and the rest of the body. In the case of valve regurgitation, the valve will not completely close, enabling leakage backward into the heart.
During a heart valve replacement, the defective valve is replaced with a new mechanical or biological valve. While valve repair surgery is preferred, it isn’t always possible, especially in cases of aortic valve disease. For heart valve replacement, your doctor will recommend one of two procedures: standard open-heart surgery or minimally invasive valve replacement surgery.
Traditional, Open-Heart Valve Replacement
The traditional valve replacement surgery is an open-heart procedure that requires a large, 8-10 inch, cut through the breast bone to open your rib cage. During the surgery, a heart lung machine, or cardiopulmonary bypass, takes over the function of your heart and lungs, allowing the surgeon to work on your heart without blood flowing through it. The surgeon will remove your diseased mitral or aortic valve, select the correctly sized replacement and position the new valve. Once the new valve is in place, your heart is restarted.
Minimally Invasive Valve Replacement
Minimally invasive valve replacement is performed through a few 2-3 inch incisions instead of one larger cut. In qualified patients, this can result in reduced scarring of the chest, decreased postoperative bleeding, less pain, a shorter hospital stay and faster recovery time. In fact, patients can often go back to their full activity level after 3-4 weeks. In addition you’re also less likely to need a blood transfusion after surgery.
How Does Replacement Differ From Repair?
Heart valve replacement is more complex than valve repair and is used when heart valve repair is not recommended. For example, valve repair surgery is the preferred choice for mitral valve stenosis when the valve can be properly mended, but the aortic valve requires valve replacement surgery because it usually cannot be repaired.
With valve replacement, the surgeon removes the entire diseased valve and replaces it with a new mechanical or biological valve. Mechanical valves are made of titanium, stainless steel or ceramic materials and are designed to last a lifetime; however, they require lifelong blood thinners to prevent clots from forming on the valve. Biological valves come from human or animal tissue and do not require medication, but they typically only last between 10 and 15 years.
Who are Candidates for Valve Replacement?
Valve replacement is the best option for patients whose valves have become irreparable from disease. If you are experiencing major symptoms from heart valve disease, including fainting spells, shortness of breath, chest pain or heart failure, then your doctor may recommend heart valve replacement surgery. Your doctor will perform a variety of tests, such as an echocardiogram, MRI or chest X-ray, and then consider your age, overall physical health and other pertinent factors to determine whether or not you need heart valve replacement.
At SSM Health, our team of nationally renowned cardiothoracic surgeons have been performing minimally invasive valve replacement for more than ten years. Find a specialist close to you and schedule an appointment for a complete evaluation. Our skilled and experienced surgeons are the most trusted in the region, so you can be sure you’re in good hands if you require this critical surgery.