Understanding Heart Valve Surgery

When heart valve disorders cause symptoms that cannot be relieved by medication or other procedures such as valvuloplasty, surgery may be the best option. Two surgeries are commonly done to correct heart valve problems.

Valvotomy-To Enlarge the Valve Opening

If you have heart valve problems caused by stenosis-a narrowing of the valve opening-your surgeon may recommend valvotomy, which is the surgical enlargement of the valve opening without replacing it.

Heart Valve Replacement

Another option for those with either heart valve stenosis or heart valve regurgitation-failure of the valve to close-is surgical replacement of the valve. There are two basic types of replacement valves: those made from animal tissue, commonly from a pig, and mechanical valves, made of metal or plastic. Two common mechanical valves are the ball and cage type and the tilting disc type.

Undergoing Valvular Surgery

Valvular surgery is open heart surgery, a complicated but widely practiced routine procedure. You will be given a general anesthetic and an incision will be made the length of your breastbone to expose the heart. Your heart is then connected to a heart-lung machine to maintain circulation and breathing during the operation, which usually lasts several hours.

The Recovery Period

Following the operation you will spend a day or more in a coronary or intensive care unit so your heart function can be carefully monitored. Full recovery time may range from a few weeks to a few months, depending on your health and age. You may be asked to restrict your diet and work with a physical therapist during your recovery.

Open heart surgery is not the only option for those with heart valve disease. But it is a promising solution for many. Talk with your surgeon and your primary care doctor about the best course for you to take. In the right circumstances heart valve surgery can give you a new lease on life.

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