Surgical Treatment Options for Heart Valve Disease
Surgical Treatment Options
Although it can help, medication can’t reverse the damage to your heart valve. Sometimes, your doctor may need to take further action, like recommending heart valve repair or valve replacement surgery.
Both procedures are used often and are highly effective at treating heart valve conditions. Repairing or replacing a valve can also prevent lasting damage to your heart.
When possible, heart valve repair is preferred over heart valve replacement. However, heart valve repair surgery is harder to do than valve replacement. Also, not all valves can be repaired. For example, aortic and pulmonary valves often have to be replaced.
Repairing Heart Valves
- Heart surgeons can repair heart valves several ways. These include separating fused valve flaps, removing or reshaping tissue so the valve can close tighter, and adding tissue to patch tears or to increase support at the base of the valve
- Sometimes cardiologists repair heart valves using cardiac catheterization. In it, a long, thin, flexible tube is put into a blood vessel in your arm, upper thigh, or neck and threaded to your heart. Through it, your doctor can do tests and treatments on your heart. Although these procedures are less invasive than surgery, they may not work as well for some patients.
Your doctor can advise you on whether repair is appropriate, and on the best procedure for doing it.
Replacing Heart Valves
- Sometimes heart valves can't be repaired and must be replaced. This surgery involves removing the faulty valve and replacing it with a man-made or biological valve. Biological valves are made from pig, cow, or human heart tissue
- Man-made valves last longer and usually don't have to be replaced. Biological valves usually have to be replaced after about 10 years. Unlike biological valves, however, man-made valves require you to take blood-thinning medicines for the rest of your life.
You and your doctor will decide together whether you should have a man-made or biological replacement valve.
Conventional Surgery or Minimally Invasive Surgery?
- During conventional “open chest” surgery, the surgeon makes one large incision (cut) in the middle of the chest and breastbone to access the heart. A heart-lung machine takes over the job of circulating blood throughout the body during the procedure, because the heart must be still and quiet while the surgeon performs heart valve surgery.
- Minimally invasive surgery is newer and less invasive than traditional surgery. It uses smaller incisions (cuts) to reach the heart valves. New surgeries tend to cause less pain and have a lower risk of infection. Recovery time also tends to be shorter—2 to 4 weeks versus 6 to 8 weeks for traditional surgery. Your surgeon will evaluate the best surgical approach for you.