Heart valve surgery may become necessary when one of the valves of the heart does not work properly. The valve may not open or close properly, or blood may begin to flow backward. Heart valve surgery may involve repairing the defective valve or replacing the valve with a prosthetic valve. Depending on the individual situation, heart valve surgery may be performed as either an open surgery or a laparoscopic surgery. The heart must be stopped temporarily during this type of surgery, so it is considered to be a major surgery, usually requiring a hospital stay of several days.
Open surgery requires a large incision to be made in the chest. Laparoscopic surgery is performed with a smaller incision, and small instruments are placed into small holes made in the chest area. Open surgery requires a longer recovery period and involves a greater risk of complications, such as infection or organ damage.
Regardless of the type of heart valve surgery being performed, the patient is placed under general anesthesia. This means that the patient is completely sedated and unaware of the procedure as it takes place. A small tube known as an IV is placed into a vein so that medications can be easily delivered directly into the bloodstream. Once the patient is completely sedated, the procedure can begin.
If the heart valve surgery is being performed to repair the damaged valve, a ring is often sewn around the valve in order to tighten the valve. Parts of the valve may need to be cut or otherwise separated or reinforced in order to allow blood to flow through it properly.
If the valve needs to be replaced, the heart valve surgery is a bit more involved. The damaged valve will be removed and replaced with a prosthetic valve. This new valve may be made from man-made materials or created from a cow, pig, or a human donor. The heart must be stopped during any type of heart valve surgery and will be restarted once the procedure has been completed. A machine will keep breathing and circulation going during the procedure.
Once the procedure has been completed and the incisions have been closed, the patient will usually be monitored in the hospital for a few days. This is to help make sure that the heart is functioning properly and there are no complications such as infection or blood clots. Most patients who have heart valve surgery make a complete recovery, with no lasting complications.