The mitral valve is on the left side of the heart. It allows blood to flow from the left upper chamber into the left lower chamber. When the valve is not working well, it may need to be replaced.
Reasons for Procedure
Healthy heart valves allow blood to flow one way. Diseased valves either leak and cause backflow or narrow and restrict blood flow. The condition can be life threatening. Sometimes the valve can be repaired. Other times, it must be replaced.
Rheumatic fever, other infections, defects at birth, and wear and tear are the most common causes of mitral valve problems.
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
- Damage to the heart or other organs
- Reaction to anesthesia
Factors that may increase your risk of complications include:
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
Talk to your doctor about medications, herbs, or supplements you are taking. You may be asked to stop taking some medications up to 1 week before the procedure.
Do not eat or drink anything the night before your procedure.
General anesthesia is given before surgery. You will be asleep.
Description of the Procedure
An incision will be made along the length of the breast bone. The breast bone will be split lengthwise to expose your heart. You will then be put on a heart-lung machine. This machine takes over the work of your heart so that the doctor can stop your heart.
Your heart will be opened. A substitute valve will be sewn into place. This valve may be mechanical (metal and plastic) such as a St. Jude valve, or it may be made of tissue. Tissue valves most often come from a pig or a cow. Tissue valves may also be supplied by a human donor or even manufactured from your own tissues. When the valve is in place, you will be taken off the heart-lung machine and your heart will be restarted. The incision will be closed.
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Newer techniques, including robot-assisted procedures, are being developed. These procedures will be able to do the same surgery with smaller incisions.
Immediately After Procedure
You will be taken to a recovery room. Your blood pressure, pulse, and breathing will be monitored.
How Long Will It Take?
About 2 to 5 hours
How Much Will It Hurt?
Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.
Average Hospital Stay
The usual length of stay is 8 to 10 days. Your doctor may choose to keep you longer if complications arise.
At the Hospital
You will probably spend 1 to 3 days in the intensive care unit (ICU) and several more days in a regular hospital room. During this time, your healthcare team will:
- Observe you for any complications
- Stabilize your heart function
- Instruct you in home care and activities
During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to reduce your chance of infection such as:
- Washing their hands
- Wearing gloves or masks
- Keeping your incisions covered
There are also steps you can take to reduce your chances of infection such as:
- Washing your hands often and reminding visitors and healthcare providers to do the same
- Reminding your healthcare providers to wear gloves or masks
- Not allowing others to touch your incisions
Once you get home:
- Take prescription medications such as blood thinners or antibiotics if they are prescribed by your doctor.
- Antibiotics may be needed before dental procedures and during certain other procedures. This will help prevent a valve infection.
- You will slowly return to your usual activities over a 4- to 12-week period. You may also be asked to participate in a cardiac rehabilitation program.
Mechanical valves can last a lifetime. Tissue valves last 7 to 14 years and then must be replaced. If your valve is repaired and you have no complications, you will likely do well and be able to return to normal activities.
Call Your Doctor
It is important for you to monitor your recovery after you leave the hospital. Alert your doctor to any problems right away. If any of the following occur, call your doctor:
- Signs of infection, including fever and chills
- Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or any discharge from the incision site
- Constipation, diarrhea, bloody or tarry-color bowel movements, or stomach pain
- Weight gain—greater than 2 pounds in 2 days
- Worsening of ankle swelling
- Severe headache
- Nausea or vomiting
- Cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
- Coughing up blood
- Skin rash or unusual bruising or bleeding
- Lightheadedness when standing
- Tingling in hands and feet
- Irregular heartbeat, extremely slow pulse, or fast pulse
- Redness, swelling, or pain in 1 or both legs
- Burning during urination
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Heart Association
The Society of Thoracic Surgeons
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Mitral valve disease. Society of Thoracic Surgeons website. Available at: https://ctsurgerypatients.org/adult-heart-disease/mitral-valve-disease. Accessed September 14, 2020.
Mitral valve disease: stenosis and regurgitation. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at: http://www.clevelandclinicmeded.com/medicalpubs/diseasemanagement/cardiology/mitral-valve-disease. Accessed September 14, 2020.
6/2/2011 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T905141/Treatment-for-tobacco-use: Mills E, Eyawo O, Lockhart I, Kelly S, Wu P, Ebbert JO. Smoking cessation reduces postoperative complications: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Med. 2011;124(2):144-154.
Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC Last Updated: 9/15/2020