What is a heart valve repair?

A heart valve repair is a surgery to fix a diseased or damaged heart valve. Heart valves keep blood flowing in one direction through the four chambers of your heart. They have tissue flaps that open to allow blood to flow forward to the body. The flaps then close tightly so blood does not leak backwards into the heart. 

Diseased or damaged heart valves allow a backflow of blood or do not allow blood to flow forward normally. Heart valve repair is preferred over heart valve replacement because it preserves the strength and function of your heart muscle. 

Heart valve repair is a major surgery with significant risks and potential complications. You may have less invasive treatment options. Consider getting a second opinion about all your treatment choices before having a heart valve repair. 

Types of heart valve repair

The types of heart valve repair procedures include:

  • Balloon valvuloplasty is a catheter procedure that opens a stenosed (narrowed) heart valve. Your doctor inserts the catheter through a vessel in your groin or arm and threads it to your heart valve. Your doctor inflates a balloon in the tip of the catheter to widen or open your heart valve.
  • Commissurotomy opens or separates valve flaps that are fused together. This widens the valve opening.
  • Decalcification removes calcium deposits on heart valves, which causes stiffness of valves.  It improves the flexibility of the tissue flaps and allows the heart valve to work better.
  • Patched leaflets fixes holes or tears in the heart valve flaps, or leaflets. Your doctor will repair the damage with a tissue patch.
  • Ring annuloplasty repairs the ring-like base of your heart valve with metal, tissue, or a special cloth material. This helps tighten a valve that is too loose or too wide.
  • Triangular resection repairs a floppy mitral valve flap (leaflet) that does not close properly. Your doctor will remove a section of the floppy leaflet and sew the remaining parts back together. This allows the valve to close more tightly.

Other surgical procedures that may be performed

Your doctor may perform other procedures in addition to heart valve repair.  These include:

  • Coronary artery bypass graft (CABG, heart bypass surgery) uses a graft to make a new route for blood to flow around blocked coronary arteries in the heart. Grafts are made with healthy vessels taken from other places in the body.
  • Percutaneous coronary intervention (angioplasty) involves widening or opening blocked or narrowed coronary arteries in the heart. A stent is typically placed in the artery to keep it open longer.

Why is a heart valve repair performed? 

Your doctor may recommend a heart valve repair when one or more of your heart valves does not open or close correctly. A heart valve that does not close all the way leads to regurgitation. Regurgitation lets blood flow backward instead of forward.

A heart valve that does not open all the way is called stenosis. Stenosis is a narrowing of the valve opening. It prevents blood from flowing forward effectively.

Your doctor may consider a heart valve repair for you if your heart valve disease causes serious symptoms. These include fatigue, dizziness, passing out, shortness of breath, and swelling of the ankles. Ask your doctor about all of your treatment options and consider getting a second opinion before deciding on a heart valve repair.

Your doctor may recommend a heart valve repair to treat:

  • Aortic regurgitation or stenosis. The aortic valve opens to allow blood to leave the heart and closes to prevent blood from flowing back into the heart.
  • Congenital heart valve disease, a condition that is present at birth
  • Mitral valve regurgitation or stenosis. The mitral valve opens to allow blood to leave the left atrium and enter the left ventricle. It closes to prevent blood from flowing back into the left atrium.
  • Pulmonary valve regurgitation or stenosis. The pulmonary valve opens to allow blood to leave the heart and go to the lungs to pick up oxygen. It closes to prevent blood from flowing back into the heart.
  • Tricuspid valve regurgitation or stenosis. The tricuspid valve opens to allow blood to leave the right atrium and enter the right ventricle. It closes to prevent blood from flowing back into the right atrium.