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.
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 re-started. The incision will be closed.
You will probably spend 1-3 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 4-12 week period. You may also be asked to participate in a cardiac rehabilitation program.
Mechanical valves can last a lifetime. Tissue valves last 7-14 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.