The normal heart valve performs an amazing mechanical function, opening and closing with each beat of the heart, about 36.5 million times a year.1 In a 70 year lifetime, that is over 2.5 billion times1, generally without failure. There are times when heart valves do not work properly. Approximately 1 percent of children are born with heart defects that sooner or later result in heart malfunction.2 Certain diseases, such as rheumatic fever, can damage the heart valves causing valve malfunction.3
Age can also result in stiffening or deposition of calcium on the heart valves. Valve repair or replacement through surgery can correct these problems and restore the function of diseased valves, thus restoring health in many patients.
When a valve malfunctions, three things may happen:4
- The valve does not open all the way, restricting the forward flow of blood (called stenosis).
- The valve does not close properly, allowing blood to flow backward (called regurgitation or insufficiency).
- The valve neither opens nor closes properly, causing a combination of numbers 1 and 2 above.
Often patients with early or mild forms of valve disease live a fairly normal life without treatment. In some cases, treatment with various types of drugs may be all that is required. Patients with symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, chronic coughing or wheezing, lack of appetite or nausea, impaired thinking (confusion), high heart rate, and/or build-up of fluid (swelling) should consider seeking timely medical attention.5
Surgical Treatment of Valve Disease
For some patients, their heart valve will need to be replaced by a prosthetic valve (manufactured heart valve). In other cases, surgical repair can be successfully performed. Your physician will explain your condition and the options you have for your upcoming surgery.6
If your physician recommends a prosthetic heart valve, there are two surgical options:
- Mechanical – carbon-based materials
- Tissue - from a cow or pig (bioprosthetic), or a cryopreserved human cadaveric tissue (homograft).6
Tissue Valve (Bioprosthetic)
Homograft Valve (Ross Procedure)
There are many good options for heart valve replacement. Each patient will need to review the options with their surgeon and cardiologist to decide which valve is best for them. Your heart condition, general health, size, age, sex, and activity level will all contribute to your decision. These factors should be discussed along with a review of the valve replacement options.
- Topol EJ (ed). Cleveland Clinic Heart Book (2000) New York: Hyperion.
- American Heart Association, Heart Failure in Children and Adolescents. www.heart.org
- American Heart Association, Problem: Mitral Valve Stenosis. www.heart.org/mitral-valve-stenosis
- American Heart Association, Heart Valve Problems, and Causes. www.heart.org/heartvalveproblems
- American Heart Association, Warning Signs of Heart Failure. www.heart.org/warning-signs
- American Heart Association, Understanding Your Heart Valve Treatment Options. www.heart.org/treatment-options