Everyday Concerns

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In addition to medication management, exercise and healthy lifestyle choices, many heart valve repair and heart valve replacement patients have questions about everyday concerns, including medical procedures and tests, drug interactions and airport security.

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Patient ID Card

If you reside in the United States, you can request a St. Jude Medical patient identification (ID) card. This card identifies you as a heart valve recipient. Always carry your card with you. It includes information about your medical device and emergency physician contact information.

When you travel and pass through metal detectors, your device may trigger the alarm. If this happens, present your ID card to security personnel.

If you do not receive your permanent, plastic ID card within 90 days of your surgery, or if you need a replacement card, contact St. Jude Medical to request a card:

St. Jude Medical Customer Service

Toll-free Phone #: 800.544.1664
E-mail: heartvalves@sjm.com

Note: If you have questions about your medical condition, please contact your doctor. St. Jude Medical, as a manufacturer of medical devices, does not provide medical advice.

MRI Testing

If you are told you need to have an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), tell the doctor that you have an artificial heart valve and show your ID card, which contains important information about how to perform an MRI safely with your valve.

Your doctor or MRI technician may request the following information:  

Non-clinical testing has demonstrated that St. Jude Medical heart valves and repair devices are MR conditional. They can be scanned safely under the following conditions:

  • Static magnetic field of 1.5 Tesla (1.5T) or 3.0 Tesla (3.0T).
  • Maximum spatial gradient field less than or equal to 3,000 Gauss/cm (30T/m).
  • Normal Operating Mode: Maximum whole-body averaged specific absorption rate (SAR) of:
    • 2.0 W/kg for 15 minutes of scanning in Normal Operating Mode at 1.5T.
    • 2.0 W/kg for 15 minutes of scanning in Normal Operating Mode at 3.0T.

If you have questions or concerns about this and other diagnostic tests and your heart valve, please talk to your doctor.

It is wise to provide your doctor with the information outlined above about MRI testing and your heart valve. We recommend that you share the following letter with your doctor and health care team: 

Review and Print Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Safety Information [PDF]

Airport Metal Detectors

The amount of metal used in mechanical heart valves and heart valve rings is very small. It is usually not enough to set off the metal detectors; however, if it does, simply show security personnel your patient identification card. Passing through a metal detector will not affect your heart valve.

Checking the Heart Valve

Your doctor will tell you how often to return for regularly scheduled follow-up visits. During these visits, blood tests may be done to monitor your medication levels, especially your anticoagulation levels. To check healing, your physician may also order chest x-rays, echocardiograms (ECHOs) to check valve function, or electrocardiograms (ECGs) to show any abnormal heart rhythms.

Your doctor will also discuss other factors affecting your health during these visits. Follow your doctor's advice and guidelines regarding diet, exercise, and medications. Always keep your scheduled appointments.

How Long Valves Last

Mechanical heart valves are made of graphite and coated with pyrolytic carbon. Studies have shown that the St. Jude Medical valve will not wear out during a person’s lifetime.1 However, if there are problems with blood clot formation, the valve may need to be replaced.

Mechanical valves are more durable than tissue valves, which are made of animal tissue. Various clinical studies indicate that tissue heart valves may last from 8 to 20 years depending on their position. Aortic valves have tended to last longer than mitral valves in these studies. The exact timing depends on the type of tissue valve, your age, lifestyle, medication requirements and other factors. The symptoms of valve failure may be the same symptoms you experienced before surgery, such as shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain, fatigue, and fluid retention. If one or more of these symptoms occur, notify your doctor.

1Elizondo DR, Boland ED, Amburs JR, et al. Mechanical cardiac valve prostheses: wear characteristics and magnitudes in three bileaflet valves. J Heart Valve Dis. 1996;5(Suppl.I): S115-S123.

Last Reviewed: January 19, 2010 2506