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Heart Valve Surgery

Heart valves that don’t close properly or that become too narrow put you at risk for problems such as arrhythmia, heart failure, and pulmonary hypertension. Experts at the Allegheny Health Network (AHN) Cardiovascular Institute perform heart valve repair and replacement procedures to improve your heart’s pumping action. Learn about different heart valve surgeries, including the preparations, recovery time, and risks associated with each one. 

Why heart valve surgery

The thought of having heart surgery can be overwhelming. But for patients with heart valve disease, surgery is a powerful option that can restore quality of life and extend life expectancy.

In general, there are two types of heart valve defects that may require surgical treatment:

Valve regurgitation

This refers to a defect that causes a back flow of blood due to a leaky heart valve. Surgery may be recommended to either repair or replace it.

Valve stenosis

This valve defect causes the valve to narrow, making it difficult for the heart to pump blood forward. Your doctor may recommend valve replacement or repair through open-heart surgery or a minimally invasive procedure. 

Types of heart valve replacement and repair at AHN

There are various surgical procedures your doctor can choose to treat heart valve disease, including leaky heart valve surgery. Other options include standard open-heart surgery or a minimally invasive catheter-based procedure.

Open-heart surgery valve replacement vs. minimally invasive procedures

In heart valve surgery, your surgeon repairs or replaces the valves to allow uninterrupted blood flow from the heart to the rest of the body. Many surgical approaches can be used to repair or replace heart valves, including open-heart surgery or minimally invasive heart surgery.

Open-heart surgery 

Standard open-heart surgery is performed with an incision through the breastbone to allow access into the chest. It’s often the preferred treatment because your surgeon can repair various existing heart problems during the same surgery. Full recovery from this surgery can take a couple of months.

Minimally invasive procedures

Minimally invasive heart surgery involves making small incisions on the chest and using long instruments to reach the heart between the ribs. Surgeons can use the assistance of a robot to perform minimally invasive heart surgery. This procedure often has a quicker recovery period and the return to independence is usually within a few weeks.

Annuloplasty vs. valvuloplasty

Heart valve repair surgery is a treatment used to repair a faulty valve that can be easily fixed without replacing it altogether. There are two types of heart valve repair surgeries:

Annuloplasty

This procedure is used to repair or reshape the ring around a heart valve by implanting an artificial ring.

Valvuloplasty

Also known as balloon valvotomy, this procedure is used to repair a heart valve with a narrow opening.

Robotic and minimally invasive

Our cardiovascular surgeons specialize in robotic-assisted and minimally invasive cardiac surgeries to treat heart valve disease. We offer:

Transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR)

Your physician places an expandable replacement valve into the heart via a catheter (long, thin tube) inserted through the femoral artery. AHN is a national leader in TAVR procedures.

MitraClip™ mitral valve repair

This innovative device stops valve regurgitation (backward flow of blood to the heart) by closing leaky valve leaflets. During minimally invasive heart surgery, your physician implants the device via a catheter inserted through the femoral artery in the groin.

Robotic-assisted mitral valve repair

Your physician repairs a leaky mitral valve using a small camera and instruments inserted through small incisions between the ribs. Learn more about robotic heart surgery for mitral valve repair.

Balloon valvuloplasty

During this minimally invasive procedure for valve stenosis (narrowed valves), your physician inserts a catheter tipped with a balloon through a blood vessel in the leg or arm. After inflating and deflating the balloon to stretch the valve opening, your physician removes the catheter and balloon.

Heart valve replacement surgery risks

Heart valve replacement surgery risks may include:

  • Swelling or bruising around the incision site.
  • Infections.
  • Dysfunction in other valves that have been replaced.
  • Blood clot formations.
  • Bleeding.
  • Stroke.

How to prepare for heart valve surgery

Before your surgical date, make sure to arrange for assistance or support for when you return home and are still in recovery. Talk to your family about what you might need and have a plan in place. You'll also want to discuss any post-surgery questions with your doctor beforehand, such as foods to avoid and what medications you'll be taking.

Your doctor may recommend that you pack a bag with a few items for the duration of your hospital stay, such as:

  • Eyeglasses, dentures, or hearing aids.
  • Comfortable clothing.
  • Items for entertainment, like a book, tablet, or music player.
  • Personal items, such as a toothbrush or shaving kit.

Recovery

After your heart valve surgery, you'll typically spend a few days in the intensive care unit (ICU) where a treatment team can monitor your recovery and watch for signs of infection. After that, you'll be moved to a progressive care unit to complete your in-hospital recovery. The amount of time you spend in the hospital will depend on the type of surgery you have and your condition. Your doctor will give you instructions to follow throughout your recovery, such as what activities to avoid, what medications to take, and how to watch for signs of infection. Your doctor may also recommend you make a few lifestyle changes to help maintain your cardiovascular health, such as eating a healthy diet and avoiding tobacco use. 

AHN Heart Valve Clinic

We offer pre-procedural appointments and follow-up care at the AHN Heart Valve Clinic located within the AHN Cardiovascular Institute at Allegheny General Hospital.

Contact us

Call (412) DOCTORS (412) 362-8677 or request an appointment to see an AHN cardiologist.

MitraClip™ is a trademark of Abbott and is used with permission