Valve Replacement Surgery: What Is Heart Valve Replacement Surgery?
Heart valve replacement surgery is a procedure which replaces damaged or diseased heart valves with new ones. A valve is a piece of tissue that allows blood flow through your arteries when they are narrowed due to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). When the artery walls become too thick, they cannot support the pressure from your blood supply anymore and this causes a buildup of plaque inside them. Plaque builds up inside the arteries, causing your blood vessels to narrow and eventually cause a blockage. If the blockage is not removed, it will lead to a heart attack or stroke.
A valve replacement surgery involves replacing one or both of the damaged or diseased heart valves with new ones. There are two types of valve replacements: open and closed. Open valve replacement means that the valve is replaced completely; while closed valve replacement means that only part of the valve needs to be replaced. Both types have their advantages and disadvantages.
Open Valve Replacement Procedure
The most common type of heart valve replacement surgery is called open valve replacement. During this operation, the surgeon removes all or part of the diseased heart valves and replaces them with healthy ones.
The surgeon makes an incision in the patient’s chest and uses special instruments to remove the damaged valves. Then, the new ones are placed. New parts for the valve can come from a human donor or from a cow or sheep. The type of valve used depends on what your specific needs are. After the valve is placed, the chest muscles and skin are stitched back together.
Is Open Heart Surgery Safe?
Open heart surgery is generally safe. However, it does come with a significant risk of death and complications. A few of the risks include:
Bleeding: This can lead to a drop in blood pressure, blood loss anemia and other blood-related problems.
Infection: Bacteria can enter the incision site and spread through your body. Antibiotics can treat most infections if diagnosed early.
Thrombosis: Blood clots can form on the incision site, travel through your blood and end up in your lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism. This is a life-threatening condition and requires immediate treatment with blood thinners.
Heart Failure: If your body loses more blood than it can compensate for, you may develop heart failure.
Death: Death can be caused by any of the risks above as well as other factors not currently known to science.
Closed Valve Replacement Procedure
There are two types of closed valve replacement procedures: homografts and mechanical valves. Your doctor will be able to explain which one is best for you.
Homografts are animal tissue valves that are placed inside your body. These valves last longer than biological tissue valves, but they have a higher risk of being rejected by the body. Antibiotics can prevent infection on the incision site.
These are man-made valves that come in two types: bioprosthetic and mechanical. With a mechanical valve, you can expect a shorter surgery time and less scarring. A bioprosthetic valve has the potential to last longer than a mechanical one. Both types can lead to higher risk of infection. Your doctor can tell you more about the different types.
What to Expect During and After Surgery
Before the surgery, you will meet with the anesthesiologist, who will explain how your anesthesia will be performed. During this procedure, you may be given medications to relax you and prevent pain. You may also be given medications to make you sleepy. The anesthesiologist will continuously monitor your heart rate, blood pressure and other vitals during and after the procedure.
Before the incision is made, your chest will be cleaned with an antiseptic to reduce the risk of infection. A scalpel or other sharp medical instrument will be used to make the incision. The old valve will be removed and the new one will be sewn in place. The incision will then be stitched up and bandaged.
During this procedure, you may experience side effects of the anesthesia. These can include trouble breathing, excessive sleepiness, difficulty swallowing, nausea and vomiting and many others. Be sure to let your doctor know of any issues as soon as possible, so that they can be treated.
You will be taken to a recovery room, so that the surgeon and other medical professionals can monitor you until your surgery is complete. Before you are discharged, you will be instructed on when to take pain medication and other aftercare procedures.
If you experience any complications, let your doctor know as soon as possible. These may include swelling, bleeding or drainage from the incision site. There may also be a change in your blood pressure or other vital signs. Inform a medical professional if any of these symptoms occur.
Outlook for a Successful Recovery
The outlook for a successful recovery after valve replacement surgery is positive. There are few complications that can arise after this procedure. However, it is important to stay in contact with your doctor about any issues that you experience.
If you have other medical conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes, it is important to maintain good care habits. Make sure that you continue to see your primary physician and monitor your health on a regular basis.
Also, this procedure does not cure the underlying condition that is affecting your heart. After valve replacement surgery, you may have to undergo further medical treatment to manage your condition. Maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly and quitting smoking.
Learn more about Aortic Valve Replacement.
Sources & references used in this article:
Prediction of operative mortality after valve replacement surgery by FH Edwards, ED Peterson, LP Coombs… – Journal of the …, 2001 – onlinejacc.org
Outcomes management in heart valve replacement surgery: early experience. by RC Phillips, DJ Lansky – The Journal of heart valve disease, 1992 – europepmc.org
Stitching devices for heart valve replacement surgery by PA Scirica, SW Zlock – US Patent 5,908,428, 1999 – Google Patents
Minimally invasive cardiac valve surgery improves patient satisfaction while reducing costs of cardiac valve replacement and repair. by LH Cohn, DH Adams, GS Couper, DP Bichell… – … of surgery, 1997 – ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
New-onset postoperative atrial fibrillation and long-term survival after aortic valve replacement surgery by G Filardo, C Hamilton, B Hamman… – … of Thoracic Surgery, 2010 – Elsevier
Long-term outcomes in valve replacement surgery for infective endocarditis by SP Kaiser, SJ Melby, A Zierer, RB Schuessler… – … of thoracic surgery, 2007 – Elsevier