If it is clear that repair is not an option, then your heart valve will be removed and a new valve (mechanical or tissue) will be inserted in its place. Often, a surgeon will not know exactly what is needed (repair or replacement) until he or she looks at the valve and surrounding structures during surgery.
Common Heart Valve Repair Techniques
Common heart valve repair techniques include:
- Valvuloplasty - A technique aimed at ensuring the leaflets of the heart valve close properly, preventing blood from backing up into the atrium.
- Commissurotomy - A type of valvuloplasty used when leaflets of the valve become stiff and actually fuse together at the base, or ring portion (annulus) of the valve.
- Annuloplasty - A technique aimed at repairing fibrous tissue at the base of a heart valve, or annulus. Sometimes the annulus becomes enlarged or dilated, allowing blood to back up into the left atrium. Sutures are placed around the ring to make the opening smaller, creating a purse-string effect around the base of the valve. The repair usually requires the implantation of a ring to support the annulus.
Minimally Invasive Techniques
In some cases, recent technology has allowed surgeons to perform heart valve replacement or repair with less invasive techniques than the conventional open chest procedure. Minimally invasive heart valve surgery is not always an option because you may require multiple cardiac procedures that necessitate open heart surgery. The use of these techniques also is dependent on many other factors that need to be evaluated by your care team.
Benefits and Risks
Heart valve repair surgery can offer several key benefits. The procedure is designed to help your heart pump blood more effectively, which means you may begin to feel better immediately. Others will feel better gradually, regaining energy and strength over the first few weeks following the surgery. Be sure to talk to your doctor about your progress and get advice on the exercises and activities you can do to feel stronger and regain your energy.
As with any surgery, there are also risks involved with heart valve repair surgery. Though rare, some of the potential complications include abnormal heart rhythms, narrowing of the valve opening, infection, bleeding, stroke, heart attack and death. In some cases, your heart valve may not function as needed. This is not typical, but you may need another surgery to treat it.
Ask your doctor for more information about heart valve repair benefits and risks.