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What is a heart valve replacement?

Heart Valve Replacement

A heart valve replacement removes a diseased or damaged heart valve and replaces it with a new heart valve. Heart valves keep blood flowing in one direction through the four chambers of your heart. They open to allow blood to flow forward to the body. They then close tightly so blood does not leak backwards into the heart. Diseased or damaged heart valves can cause a backflow of blood or not allow blood to flow forward normally. 

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

Types of replacement heart valves

The new valve used in a heart valve replacement is called a prosthesis. The types of heart valve prostheses include:

  • Animal valve prostheses, also called biological or tissue valves, come from either pigs (porcine) or cows (bovine). Tissue valves may also have some man-made parts attached to them. Tissue valves may last 10 to 15 years before they need replacement. These valves do not require taking blood thinners for the rest of your life.
  • Human valve prostheses come from human donor hearts. These valves are also called biological or tissue valves. They may also have some man-made parts attached to them and may last 10 to 15 years before they need replacement. These valves do not require taking blood thinners for the rest of your life.
  • Mechanical valve prostheses are man-made valves, created from a form of carbon. Mechanical valves are generally more durable than tissues valves. Mechanical valves generally last more  than 15 years. However, you must take blood-thinning medication for the rest of your life if you have a mechanical valve. 

Other surgical procedures that may be performed

Your doctor may also perform other procedures in addition to a heart valve replacement. 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 a blocked or narrowed coronary arteries in the heart. A stent is typically placed in the artery to keep it open longer.

Medical Reviewers: Daphne E. Hemmings, MD, MPH Last Review Date: Jul 12, 2013

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Medical References

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Heart Valves Explained. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/PreventionTreatmentofHeartAttack/Heart-Valves-Explained_UCM_305656_Article.jsp. Accessed May 6, 2013.
A Patient’s Guide to Heart Surgery: Heart Valve Surgery. University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine. http://www.cts.usc.edu/hpg-heartvalvesurgery.html. Accessed May 6, 2013.
Pile, JC. Evaluating postoperative fever: A focused approach. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine. 2006;73 (Suppl 1):S62. http://ccjm.org/content/73/Suppl_1/S62.full.pdf. Accessed May 6, 2013.
Umakanthan R, Leacche M, Petracek MR, Zhao DX, Byrne JG. Combined PCI and minimally invasive heart valve surgery for high-risk patients. Curr Treat Options Cardiovasc Med. 2009 Dec;11(6):492-8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19930987. Accessed May 6, 2013.
Valve Surgery. Cleveland Clinic. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/heart/disorders/valve/valvetreatment.aspx. Accessed May 6, 2013.

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