Severe valve damage means the valve must be replaced .It most often involves the aortic or mitral valve.. Some patients may need more than one valve repaired or replaced.
Two kinds of valves can be used for replacement:
- Mechanical valves are usually made from materials such as plastic, carbon, or metal. They are strong, and they last a long time. Patients will need to take blood-thinning medicines (called anticoagulants) for the rest of their lives because blood tends to stick to mechanical valves and create blood clots.
- Biological valves -are made from animal tissue (called a xenograft)
allograft or homograft – taken from the human tissue of a donated heart. (called an autograft – patient’s own tissue can be used for valve replacement).
- Patients with biological valves usually do not need to take blood-thinning medicines. These valves are not as strong as mechanical valves, though, and they may need to be replaced every 10 years or so. These valves are used most often in elderly patients.
You and your doctor will decide which type of valve is best for you.
During valve repair or replacement surgery, the breastbone is divided, the heart is stopped, and blood is sent through a heart-lung machine. Because the heart or the aorta must be opened, heart valve surgery is open heart surgery.
Be sure to tell your surgeon and cardiologist about cold or the flu or any other infection . Any infection may affect your recovery.
The night before surgery, you will be asked to bathe to reduce the amount of germs on your skin.
Most patients are admitted to the hospital the day before surgery or, in some cases, on the morning of surgery.
After you are completely asleep, a tube will be inserted down your windpipe and connected to a machine called a respirator, which will take over your breathing. Another tube will be inserted through your nose and down your throat, into your stomach. This tube will stop liquid and air from collecting in your stomach, so you will not feel sick and bloated when you wake up. A thin tube called a catheter will be inserted into your bladder to collect any urine produced during the operation.
The surgery can take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours or more, depending on the number of valves that need to be repaired or replaced.
You can expect to stay in the hospital for about a week, including at least 1 to 3 days in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). You may walk back home after 8-10 days of surgery.
You can usually go back to work in 4 to 6 weeks. Those who have more physically demanding jobs may need to wait longer.
If you are having a surgical or dental procedure, you should take an antibiotic before the procedure. Bacteria can enter the bloodstream during these procedures. If bacteria get into a repaired or artificial valve, it can lead to a serious condition called bacterial endocarditis. Antibiotics can prevent bacterial endocarditis.
Patients with mechanical valves say they sometimes hear a quiet clicking sound in their chest. This is just the sound of the new valve opening and closing, and it is nothing to be worried about. In fact, it is a sign that the new valve is working the way it should.