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What is a Valvotomy?

By C.B. Fox
Updated May 17, 2024
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A valvotomy is a procedure in which blockage of one of the valves of the heart is removed. The valve most commonly affected is the mitral valve which is located on the left side of the heart, between the atrium and the ventricle. This particular valve can narrow, preventing blood from flowing properly through the heart, leading to a variety of health problems and a shortened life expectancy.

There are a number of different surgical techniques to perform a valvotomy. The closed valvotomy is one of the earliest heart surgeries performed and is still used in many parts of the world. During this procedure, the surgeon makes a finger-sized incision below the patient’s armpit. Through this access point, the doctor maneuvers a dilator into the atrium, which is used to break apart the material blocking blood flow between the atrium and the ventricle. There is a relatively quick recovery with this type of surgery as it does not require opening the chest or the heart.

Alternatively, a surgeon may perform a valvotomy through open heart surgery. This technique requires a long recovery because doctors need to open the chest at the ribcage in order to access the heart. The patient’s blood is pumped through an artificial heart and lung machine for the duration of this surgery as the doctor cuts into the heart and physically removes the blockage on the valve.

A more recent and much less obtrusive surgical technique can also be used to perform a valvotomy. That technique us called the balloon valvotomy, or the balloon valvuloplasty, grants access to the heart and the affected valve through a blood vessel in the groin. A thin, flexible tube is passed up through the blood vessel until it reaches the heart. Positioned in the affected valve, a balloon at the tip of the tube is inflated several times, which breaks up the material blocking the valve and increases blood flow. The recovery for this type of surgery is a few hours in the hospital followed by a short recovery at home.

The most common condition that creates a need for a valvotomy is called mitral stenosis. This can affect people of any age, including infants and children, though it becomes much more common as a person ages. This condition is caused by a buildup of material on the mitral valve, often stemming from a bout of rheumatic fever, though many patients are unaware that they have had this condition.

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