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.
The doctor will make a cut (incision) in the skin over your breastbone (sternum). Then the doctor will cut through your sternum to reach your heart. The doctor will connect you to a heart-lung bypass machine, which is used to add oxygen to the blood and move the blood through the body. This machine will allow the doctor to 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 be necessary to replace your heart valve with an artificial valve. The artificial valve may be made of plastic, metal, human, or animal tissue. Your doctor will talk with you before surgery about 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 will use wire to put your sternum back together, and stitches or staples to close the incision. The wire will stay in your chest. The incision will leave a scar that may become less noticeable with time.
You will 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.
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 continue to 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 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 3, 2017
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
& Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine
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