Cardiovascular diseases account for the maximum mortality rates worldwide, according to WHO. As per estimates, over 30 million people across developed countries are diagnosed annually with heart valve defects that consequently lead to heart failure. Improvements in healthcare have introduced innovative means to tackle valvular heart diseases and shift the paradigm towards the betterment of general cardiac health.
What is a heart valve replacement?
The four valves of the heart – the mitral, aortic, tricuspid, and pulmonary valves act as gateways for blood passage. They are primarily responsible for maintaining the correct direction of blood flow. Valve replacement and repair are surgical techniques performed when one or more of them fail to function properly, thus disrupting blood circulation.
Why do you need heart valve surgery?
Malformations in the valves lead to disarray in the normal blood circulation of the body. When less blood is pumped in the right direction, the heart has to work harder to compensate for this lack of blood flowing to the rest of the body. This leads to complicated cardiac issues which can be fatal. Heart valve surgery – valve replacement or repair is done to address these deformities.
Symptoms to look out for:
● Chest pain
● Heart palpitations
● Breathing troubles
● Rapid weight gain
● Edema of feet, ankles, and abdomen
Two types of heart valve defects
Heart valve surgery is needed when the following defects occur:
Stenosis is a condition when the valve cannot open fully, hence blocking the usual blood flow. Aortic valve replacement is necessary when the aortic valve narrows down, restricting the passage of blood from the left ventricle to the body tissues.
When the valve fails to close tightly, backward leakage of blood takes place. Backward flow of blood into the heart can lead to extremely serious complications as mortality rates are 25% even after heart valve surgery.
Types of heart valve surgeries
Heart Valve Repair
1. Annuloplasty: A heart valve surgery procedure, annuloplasty reinforces and reshapes the ring (annulus) around the faulty valve in the heart. Annuloplasty is targeted to treat valve regurgitation that causes enlargement of the heart chambers.
2. Valvuloplasty: Also known as balloon valvuloplasty, this method is applied in matters of valve stenosis. This involves the insertion of a catheter fixed with a balloon into the artery which is inflated inside the heart to expand the opening of the defective valve.
Heart Valve Replacement:
In certain cases, valve replacement is required when the repair cannot fix the defect. In Heart valve replacement surgery, the doctor replaces the damaged valve with either mechanical valves or biological tissues extracted from cow, pig or human heart. This is performed through the traditional open-heart surgery procedure.
Biological valves need to be replaced periodically as they degenerate gradually over time. Mechanical valves, on the other hand, require patients to take blood-thinning medications throughout life to inhibit blood clots.
The latest options for heart valve replacement surgery include transcatheter aortic valve replacement procedures that are minimally invasive.
How to prepare for a heart valve replacement surgery?
Heart valve replacement is a critical surgery and you need to be cautious before the procedure. Steps to be followed:
1. Pre-surgery tests:
● Blood and urine tests
● Chest X-ray
● Physical exam: Vital signs, blood pressure, body weight
2. Inform your surgeon about the medications and supplements you consume. This includes vitamins, over-the-counter drugs, anticoagulants, birth control pills, herbal and prescription medicines.
3. Stop smoking at least 2 weeks before surgery.
4. Patients will be asked to fast at least 8 hours before the heart valve surgery.
5. Let your doctor know about medicational allergies.
6. Wash off with a special soap provided to you to kill off all kinds of germs.
Heart valve replacement procedure: Possible risks
Modern heart valve replacement surgeries have high success rates. But there might be certain post-surgery risks that you should be mindful of. These include:
● Bleeding and blood clots
● Arrhythmia or abnormal heart rhythm
● Endocarditis or infection
● Kidney problems
In heart valve replacement procedures, the new valve may sometimes fail to function or there might be a need to replace them again in the future.
Call your doctor immediately if you see these signs:
● High fever
● Excessive shortness of breath
● Pain, redness, and swelling
● Formation of fluid or pus
● Pre-surgery symptoms start to show again
Road to recovery: Lifestyle changes to adopt
Post-surgery, patients are likely to feel tired easily and have trouble sleeping or growing an appetite. Lifestyle changes are necessary after a heart valve replacement surgery like:
1. Nutrition: Maintain a healthy diet that avoids processed meat and saturated fats. Avoid supplemental calcium products and cholesterol-rich food.
2. Physical activity: Gradually build up your activity level after heart valve replacement. Overall cardiovascular health can be improved through a regular exercise program of 150 minutes per week.
With due care, patients are likely to get back on their feet within 3 months of surgery.
Valve Replacement Surgery related FAQs
What is aortic valve replacement?
The aortic valve can be deformed due to stenosis or regurgitation that leads to the weakening of your heart. Aortic valve replacement involves heart valve surgery in which surgeons replace the damaged valve with mechanical or biological tissue valves.
What is mitral valve replacement?
Mitral valve replacement surgery is needed when the heart’s mitral valves are affected due to stenosis or regurgitation. The method follows the replacement of the faulty valve with mechanical or biological tissue valves.
How long does a heart valve replacement surgery take?
A heart valve surgery can take 2 to 4 hours depending on the number of valves that need to be replaced.
What is the success rate of heart valve replacement surgery?
The success rate is between 94% for aortic valve replacement and 91% for mitral valve replacement. These rates depend on the patient’s age and overall health condition.
What is the recovery time after a valve replacement surgery?
Recovery time is usually 4-8 weeks; minimally invasive surgeries take less time. The breastbone heals in 6-8 weeks and it takes almost 3 months to get back to normal life.