Heart Valve Replacement
by Editorial Staff and Contributors
This is surgery to replace a damaged heart valve. The heart's four valves open and tightly close. The tricuspid and mitral valves allow blood to flow from one chamber to another. The pulmonary and aortic valves allow blood to flow to the large blood vessels. The valves make it so that blood can only flow forward when the heart squeezes. Usually, only one valve is replaced at a time. However, at times, one or more valves may need to be replaced. The new heart valves can be:
Reasons for Procedure TOP
This procedure is done to repair a valve that is not functioning properly due to:
Possible Complications TOP
If you are planning to have heart valve replacement, your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include:
Some factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
What to Expect TOP
Prior to Procedure
Your doctor may do the following:
Leading up to your procedure:
General anesthesia will be used. It will block any pain and keep you asleep through the surgery. It is given through an IV.
Description of the Procedure TOP
The doctor will cut through the skin and breastbone. The chest cavity will be opened. Next, your heart will be connected to a heart-lung machine. This machine will take over the functions of the heart and lungs during the surgery. Next, the heart will be stopped. An incision will be made and the damaged valve will be removed. The new valve will be stitched into place. The doctor will check to make sure the valve opens and closes properly. The incision in the heart will be closed, and the heart will be restarted. After the heart is working fine, you will be removed from the heart-lung machine. The chest will be closed with wires. Lastly, the skin will be closed with sutures.
Immediately After Procedure TOP
You will be closely monitored in the intensive care unit (ICU) with the help of the following devices:
How Long Will It Take? TOP
3-5 hours—depending on how many valves need to be replaced
How Much Will It Hurt? TOP
You will have pain while recovering. Your doctor will give you pain medicine.
Average Hospital Stay TOP
This procedure is done in a hospital setting. The usual length of stay is 2-5 days. The first day is spent in ICU. Your doctor may choose to keep you longer if complications occur.
Post-procedure Care TOP
At the Hospital
While you are recovering at the hospital, you may be instructed to:
When you return home, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:
The surgical site in your breastbone will heal in 4-6 weeks. After the recovery process, you should be able to return to normal activities.
Call Your Doctor TOP
After you leave the hospital, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:
In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American Heart Association
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Cardiac catheterization. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at:
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Updated February 2011. Accessed May 8, 2013.
Cecil RL, Goldman L, Bennett J. Cecil Textbook of Medicine. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Company; 2000.
6/2/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
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Mills E, Eyawo O, et al. Smoking cessation reduces postoperative complications: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Med. 2011;124(2):144-154.e8.
Last reviewed March 2014 by Michael J. Fucci, DO
Last Updated: 05/02/2014