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Heart valve surgery repairs or replaces a damaged heart valve. There are four valves in your heart. They are the mitral, aortic, tricuspid, and pulmonic valves. These valves open and close to keep blood flowing in the proper direction through your heart. When the heart valves do not close properly or are very tight and narrow, blood does not flow through the heart the right way.
You will be asleep during the surgery. In an open-chest surgery, your doctor will make a cut in the skin over your breastbone (sternum). The cut is called an incision. Then the doctor will cut through your sternum to reach your heart. In a less invasive surgery, your doctor will make a cut between your ribs. Your sternum is not cut.
The doctor will connect you to a heart-lung bypass machine. This machine adds oxygen to the blood and moves the blood through the body. It lets the doctor stop your heartbeat while he or she works on your heart. While your heartbeat is stopped, the doctor will repair your heart valve. If the heart valve is badly damaged, it may need to be replaced with an artificial valve. The new valve may be made of plastic, metal, or animal tissue. You and your doctor can decide before surgery which type of valve is best for you.
After the doctor has repaired or replaced your heart valve, he or she will restart your heartbeat. Then the doctor may use wire to put your sternum back together. Stitches or staples will be used to close the incision. The wire will stay in your chest. The incision will leave a scar that will fade with time.
You may stay in the hospital for 3 to 8 days after surgery. You will probably be able to do many of your usual activities after 4 to 6 weeks. But for 2 to 3 months you will not be able to lift heavy objects or do activities that strain your chest or upper arm muscles.
After you recover, you will probably feel better than you did before you had the surgery. For example, you may no longer have shortness of breath and fatigue. But you may still have heart problems.
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 call line 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.
Having surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect and how to safely prepare for surgery.
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Current as of: April 9, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
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