Heart Valve Surgery

heart valve

Heart valve surgery addresses the problem of incorrect functioning of heart valves. In heart valve disease, either the valve may not open completely, or it may not shut tight. In either circumstance, blood doesn’t move through the heart’s chambers the way it should, thus putting more pressure on the heart.

Heart valve surgery abroad is gaining popularity with medical tourists as the expertise of cardiac surgeons in India is proved every day. Also, heart valve surgery is pretty cheap abroad when compared to the costs in the US.


In heart valve surgery, one or more valves are repaired or replaced, depending on the condition of the valve. The decision to either repair or replace the valve can be taken only during surgery and not before. Your surgeon will discuss with you the options and any other procedures you may need.

Valve repair:

A ring may be sewn around the opening of the valve to tighten it. Other parts of the valve may be cut, shortened, separated, or made stronger to help the valve open and close right.

Valve replacement:

If a valve cannot be repaired, it may be replaced with a prosthetic valve. Two kinds of prosthetic heart valves are available: mechanical and biological.

A mechanical valve is created from artificial materials. Though it lasts long, the biggest disadvantage is that you will have to be on a lifetime therapy of anticoagulants or blood thinners as blood tends to clot on or around the mechanical valve.

Biological (tissue) valves are taken from pig, cow, or human donors. These valves don’t last as long as mechanical valves, but they usually do not necessitate the long-term use of an anticoagulant.

Choosing the valve type is a decision on which your doctor will advise you. The decision is influenced by factors like your age, the kind of work you do, the size of your valve, the condition of your heart, your ability to take an anticoagulant, and how many valves you may need.

Minimally Invasive Heart Valve Surgery

Heart valve surgery can also be done through the minimally invasive method. However, total evaluation condition of the patient is required before determining if he / she candidate for this method. Minimally invasive heart valve surgery has significant advantages over the traditional method like faster recovery, lesser pain, and less visible scarring.

How to Prepare for Heart Valve Surgery

The fact that they may need a major heart surgery can be upsetting. But try not to panic, it could only worsen matters. A list of things to do before heart valve surgery and what is to expect from it:

  • If the surgery is not being conducted in an emergency situation, find out all you can about your condition and the operation, like the risks involved, alternatives available, etc.
  • You will have to go through quite a few tests that will help the doctor assess your general health condition accurately.
  • Find out about the cost of heart valve surgery, and how much of it will be covered by insurance.
  • Get your family and friends involved. Educate them about your procedure and what you can expect after it.
  • Take care of any dental infections before surgery, because bacteria from the infection may enter the bloodstream and infect the new heart valve – a very serious condition.
  • Make a list of all the medications and vitamin supplements that you take and give this to your doctor well ahead of your surgery. He / She will then tell you which can be continued and which need to discontinued until after the surgery. Also let your doctor about any allergies that you have to particular medicines.
  • You may be asked to drink only clear liquids for one or several days before surgery.
  • Arrange for someone to drive you to and from the hospital and also to manage your daily needs for up to a month or so after the surgery.
  • Quit smoking several weeks before surgery.
  • Go to bed early the night before surgery. If you are very tense, ask your doctor for a sedative.

Aftercare and Post-Heart Valve Surgery Precautions

Aftercare is crucial to the success of heart valve surgery. It also helps to know what to expect after the procedure:

  • Immediately after your operation, you’ll be drowsy. You will be in the ICU for the next few hours, where you will be closely monitored.
  • In your recuperation period and after, observe for arm or leg pain, or slurred speech. Contact the doctor right away if these signs appear.
  • Notify your dentist or other doctors that you have had a valve replacement before having any procedures.
  • If female, the patient must notify her doctor if she is pregnant or considering pregnancy.

Precautions to be taken when on Anticoagulants (Blood Thinners)

  • Blood thinning medication must be taken as prescribed.
  • Blood will be drawn regularly to check blood clotting time and to ensure that bleeding problems do not occur.
  • You will have to wear an identification bracelet or necklace to identify your use of anticoagulants.
  • Take care not to cut yourself because you will bleed longer than normal. If you do cut yourself, direct pressure must be applied on the area of the cut for 5-10 minutes.

Benefits of Heart Valve Surgery

  • You will slowly be able to participate in normal activities again, though the recovery time varies from patient to patient.
  • Recovery depends on your overall strength.
  • The problems that the old, damaged valve caused will no longer occur and the new heart valve will help your heart function better.

Risks of Heart Valve Surgery

  • Blood clot formation on or around the valve
  • Damage to red blood cells
  • Valve malfunction that may cause narrowing of the valve
  • Small amounts of blood leakage through the valve opening after it closes
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Inflammation of the heart lining (endocarditis)
  • Bleeding or hemorrhaging relating to anticoagulant medication

Alternatives to Heart Valve Surgery

Some patients may respond to medications for the conditions associated with heart valve disease. The other alternative to heart valve surgery is a procedure called balloon valvotomy: it increases the opening of a narrowed valve. Your doctor will help you decide if this procedure is right for you.

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