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:
Mechanical, made of metal and plastic, such as a St. Jude valve
Made of tissue—most commonly from a pig or a cow, but they may also be supplied by a human donor or even made from your own tissue
Echocardiogram—a test that uses sound waves to visualize functioning of the heart, including the valves
X-ray—a test that uses radiation to take a picture of structures inside the body
(EKG)—a test that records the heart's activity by measuring electrical currents through the heart muscle
Cardiac catheterization—the insertion of a tube-like instrument into the heart through an artery to detect problems with the heart and its blood supply. It can also accurately define the valve problem.
Leading up to your procedure:
If you had to stop medicines before the procedure, ask your doctor when you can start again. Medicines often stopped include:
Arrange for a ride to and from the hospital.
Arrange for help at home after the surgery.
Eat a light meal the night before the surgery. Do not eat or drink anything after midnight.
will be used. It will block any pain and keep you asleep through the surgery. It is given through an IV.
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.
While you are recovering at the hospital, you may be instructed to:
Breathe deeply and cough 10-20 times every hour to help keep your lungs working well.
Walk with assistance. You may be encouraged to walk 2-3 days after surgery.
Take blood thinners to prevent blood clots from forming around the valve. If you have a tissue valve, you will not need a blood thinner. If you have a mechanical valve, you will have to take the medicine for the rest of your life.
When you return home, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:
Gradually resume your regular diet.
Work with a physical therapist.
Ask your doctor about when it is safe to shower, bathe, or soak in water.
Be sure to follow your doctor’s
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.
Cardiac catheterization. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at: ...(Click grey area to select URL) Updated February 2011. Accessed May 8, 2013.
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21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Company; 2000.
6/2/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance ...(Click grey area to select URL) 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.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.