Heart Valve Disease Treatment (cont.)

What If My Valves Cannot Be Repaired?

When you have aortic or pulmonic heart valve disease, valve replacement surgery is usually performed. In some cases, the aortic valve can be repaired.

During valve replacement surgery, the faulty valve is removed and a new valve is sewn to the annulus of your original valve. The new valve can be a:

  • Mechanical valve. It is made totally of mechanical parts that are tolerated well by the body. The bi-leaflet valve is used most often. It consists of two carbon leaflets in a ring covered with polyester knit fabric.
  • Biological valve. Tissue valves (also called biologic or bioprosthetic valves) are made of human or animal tissue. Animal tissue heart valves may come from pig tissue (porcine) or cow tissue (bovine). Tissue valves may have some artificial parts to help give the valve support and to aid placement.
  • Homograft valve (also called allograft). It is an aortic or pulmonic human valve that has been removed from a donated human heart, preserved, and frozen under sterile conditions. A homograft may be used to replace a diseased aortic or pulmonic valve.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Each Type of Heart Valve?

  • Mechanical heart valves. The advantage to mechanical heart valves is their sturdiness. They are designed to last for many years. There are also drawbacks. Due to the artificial material involved, people who receive these valves will need to take life-long blood-thinner medication (anticoagulants) to prevent clots from forming in the mechanical valve. These clots can increase the risk for a stroke. Also, some people report a valve ticking sound that is usually not bothersome. It is the sound of the valve leaflets opening and closing.
  • Biological heart valves. The advantage of biological heart valves is that most people do not need to take life-long blood thinners, unless they have other conditions (such as atrial fibrillation) that warrant it. Biologic valves, traditionally, were not considered as durable as mechanical valves, especially in younger people. Previously available biologic valves usually needed to be replaced after about 10 years. However, some studies show that some biologic valves may last at least 17 years without decline in function. This represents a new milestone in the durability of biologic valves.
  • Homograft heart valves. Homografts are ideal heart valves for aortic valve replacement, especially when the aortic root is diseased or there is infection. The heart's natural anatomy is preserved and patients do not need to take life-long blood thinners. However, the limited availability is a drawback in some settings.

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