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Learning About Life With a Mechanical Heart Valve

What is a mechanical heart valve?

A heart valve may be replaced when it is damaged or narrowed by disease. Your doctor replaces your valve with an artificial valve made of plastic or metal. The new valve controls the normal flow of blood into and out of the heart.

It's important to keep in mind that an artificial valve won't work as well as an undamaged natural valve. So even though your heart works better, it may not recover to completely normal levels. If your heart was already working poorly before your valve was replaced, you may still have heart problems.

Mechanical valves don't usually wear out. They usually last 20 years or more. Other problems might happen with the valve, such as an infection. As long as you have the valve, you and your doctor will need to watch for signs of problems.

After surgery, you may need to take the blood thinner called warfarin. This will lower your risk of blood clots. You will need to take this medicine every day for as long as you have the valve.

Be sure to tell all your doctors and your dentist that you have had a heart valve replaced. This is important because you may need to take antibiotics before certain procedures to prevent infection.

How can you check for problems with your heart valve?

Even though you have a new valve, you still have a serious heart condition that needs to be watched closely. You and your doctor will need to watch for signs that there is a problem with the valve.

These signs might be similar to those you had before your original valve was replaced. Watch for:

  • Shortness of breath.
  • Fainting.
  • Chest pain.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

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