Heart valve surgery repairs or replaces a valve that’s too narrow or doesn’t close right. Valves need to work efficiently to help blood flow the right direction through your heart. Heart valve surgery options include open, minimally invasive or through vein access to your heart. It takes one or two months to recover, depending on the surgery.
Heart valve surgery fixes or replaces one or more of the four valves in your heart. Your valves, located between your heart’s four chambers, keep your blood moving the right way. When valves are working right, your blood should flow through your heart in one direction each time your heart beats.
Valves act like doors that open and close with each heartbeat, letting blood flow in and out of the chambers. When a valve isn’t working right, some of the blood may go back to the chamber or room it just left. Other times a valve may become narrow, which may prevent blood from moving forward. This is a problem because it keeps your heart from working efficiently.
Your four heart valves are:
The two types of heart valve surgery options are:
You’ll have tests so your healthcare provider can find out the location, type and extent of your valve disease. The test results help determine the best type of procedure for you. Other factors your doctor will consider are:
Your cardiac surgeon can combine valve surgery with other heart surgeries. Examples include surgeries that involve more than one valve procedure and combining valve surgery with:
No, a heart valve can’t repair itself. Valve disease doesn’t go away. It gets worse with time. As the disease gets worse, you’ll have more symptoms and your overall health will suffer. These changes often happen slowly, but they can also occur very quickly.
Depending on the type and extent of valve disease you have, you may be able to take medication for the short term. Surgery is the only effective long-term solution, and your healthcare provider will help determine when it’s time to pursue that option.
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You may have been born with a valve problem or developed a leak, stiffness or narrowing in your valve.
You’ll most likely need treatment for heart valve disease if you’re having symptoms like:
Note: While medication can help improve your symptoms and quality of life, surgery is the only effective long-term option. Ask your healthcare provider when you should start considering heart valve surgery.
Bring loose, comfortable clothes and shoes that are easy to put on. If you wear a bra, you may want to bring one that’s easy to put on without raising your arms. The person who brought you to the hospital can hold on to these items for you during surgery.
Heart valve surgery options include:
After surgery, your healthcare team may move you to an intensive care unit (ICU) where they can monitor you closely. After that, you’ll be in a regular room. You may be in the hospital for five to seven days.
Machines connected to you will monitor your blood pressure and heart rate. You may have tubes coming out of your chest to drain fluids.
Your provider will encourage you to eat, drink and walk as soon as you can after surgery. You can start with short walks around your room or down the hall and increase your distance little by little.
Your provider may sign you up for cardiac rehab, a carefully monitored exercise program.
Heart valve surgery can ease your symptoms, improve your life expectancy and help prevent death.
The potential advantages of heart valve repair vs. valve replacement are:
Valve surgeries, including valve repair and valve replacement, are the most common minimally invasive procedure.
The benefits of minimally invasive surgery include:
Any surgery involves risks. Heart valve surgery risks may include:
Risks are related to:
Your cardiologist and surgeon will talk to you about these risks before your surgery.
If you’ve had a valve fixed or replaced, you may be at a higher risk of getting infective endocarditis. But this can also happen with a faulty valve that isn’t repaired. In certain cases, your healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics to keep you from getting endocarditis from some types of dental work. You can reduce the risk of endocarditis yourself by taking good care of your teeth.
It takes about four to eight weeks to recover from heart valve surgery. But your recovery may be shorter if you had minimally invasive surgery or surgery through a vein.
The way you feel after surgery depends on:
You can expect to get tired easily for the first three weeks after surgery.
Don’t drive for a few weeks after surgery.
Don’t handle anything that weighs more than 15 pounds for the first six to eight weeks after surgery.
A study found that people who were more physically active in the year after surgery had a lower risk of death than those who didn’t exercise much. The death rate ranges from 0.1% to 10% depending on the operation and the person's overall health.
Contact your doctor if:
Medications often help during the first stages of valve disease, but they don't work as well as the disease gets worse. You don’t need to wait until your symptoms become unbearable before you have surgery. In some cases, it’s best to have surgery before symptoms start. The decision to have surgery is a major one that’s based on your individual needs. It involves input from you, your cardiologist and your surgeon.
Yes, a heart valve replacement is considered major surgery. However, it may seem less intimidating if you have a minimally invasive type of surgery, which is common.
The amount of time your valve repair or replacement lasts depends on several things:
Mechanical valves rarely wear out, but they may need replacement if a blood clot, infection or tissue growth keeps them from working right. Biological valves may need to be replaced, especially if you’re younger.
The need for anticoagulant medication (blood thinners) after surgery depends on the type of surgery you have. The medication prevents blood clots from forming and causing problems with your heart valve. Currently, warfarin is the only approved blood thinner for mechanical heart valves.
If you have a mechanical heart valve, you’ll need to take this medication for the rest of your life.
If you have valve repair or a biological valve replacement, you may need to take this medication for several weeks after surgery, or maybe not at all.
You may need to take an anticoagulant for a condition not related to your heart valves. This medication also treats:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
After talking with you, your surgeon will choose the best option for your heart valve surgery. Once you know what type of surgery you’ll have, you can rally your family and friends to help. You may not be allowed to bend and lift after surgery for a while. Ask people to help you with housework and meal preparation so you can focus on recovering. You can also prepare and freeze meals before your surgery so you can just reheat them while you heal.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/01/2022.
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