(Open Heart Surgery)
Heart valve repair or replacement surgery is a treatment option for valvular heart disease. When heart valves become damaged or diseased, they may not function properly. Conditions which may cause heart valve dysfunction are valvular stenosis and valvular insufficiency (regurgitation).
When one (or more) valve(s) becomes stenotic (stiff), the heart muscle must work harder to pump the blood through the valve. Some reasons why heart valves become stenotic include infection (such as rheumatic fever or staphylococcus infections) and aging. If one or more valves become insufficient (leaky), blood leaks backwards, which means that less blood is pumped in the proper direction. The physician may decide that the diseased valve(s) needs to be surgically repaired or replaced.
Traditionally, repair or replacement of heart valves has involved open-heart surgery, which means that the chest is opened in the operating room and the heart stopped for a time so that the surgeon may repair or replace the valve(s). In order to open the chest, the breastbone, or sternum, is cut in half and spread apart. Once the heart is exposed, large tubes are inserted into the heart so that the blood could be pumped through the body during the surgery by a cardiopulmonary bypass machine (heart-lung machine). The bypass machine is necessary to pump blood because the heart is stopped and kept still while the surgeon performs the valve repair or replacement procedure.
Newer, less invasive techniques have been developed to replace or repair heart valves. Minimally-invasive procedures in which the incision is much smaller often mean less pain post-operatively and shorter hospital stays. Valvuloplasty is another method that may be used to treat valve stenosis in some cases.
The diseased valve may be repaired using a ring to support a person's own valve, or the entire valve may be removed and replaced by an artificial valve. Artificial valves may be mechanical (made of metal or plastic) or tissue (made from animal valves or human valves taken from cadavers).
Other related procedures that may be used to assess the heart include resting and exercise electrocardiogram (ECG), Holter monitor, signal-averaged ECG, cardiac catheterization, chest x-ray, computed tomography (CT scan) of the chest, echocardiography, electrophysiological studies, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the heart, myocardial perfusion scans, radionuclide angiography, and ultrafast CT scan. Please see these procedures for additional information.
To better understand how valvular heart disease affects the heart, a review of basic heart anatomy and valve function follows.
The heart is a pump made of muscle tissue. The heart has four pumping chambers: two upper chambers, called atria, and two lower chambers, called ventricles. The right atrium pumps blood into the right ventricle, which then pumps the blood into the lungs where wastes such as carbon dioxide are given off and oxygen and other nutrients are taken into the blood.
From the lungs, the blood flows back into the left atrium, is pumped into the left ventricle, and then is pumped through the aorta out to the rest of the body and the coronary arteries. When the atria are pumping, the ventricles are relaxed in order to receive the blood from the atria. Once the atria have pumped their entire blood load into the ventricles, they relax while the ventricles pump the blood out to the lungs and to the rest of the body.
In order to keep the blood flowing forward during its journey through the heart, there are valves between each of the heart's pumping chambers:
If the heart valve(s) becomes damaged or diseased, a person may experience the following symptoms:
Valve repair or replacement surgery is performed to correct the problems caused by one or more diseased heart valves.
There may be other reasons for your physician to recommend heart valve repair or replacement surgery.
Possible risks associated with heart valve repair or replacement surgery include, but are not limited to, the following:
If you are pregnant or suspect that you may be pregnant, you should notify your physician. If you are lactating, or breastfeeding, you should notify your physician.
Patients who are allergic to or sensitive to medications, contrast dyes, iodine, or latex should notify their physician.
There may be other risks depending upon your specific medical condition. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your physician prior to the procedure.
Heart valve repair or replacement surgery requires a stay in a hospital. Procedure may vary depending on your condition and your physician’s practices.
Generally, heart valve repair or replacement follows this process:
After the surgery you may be taken to the recovery room before being taken to the intensive care unit (ICU) to be closely monitored for several days. Alternatively, you may be taken directly to the ICU from the operating room. You will be connected to monitors that will constantly display your electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) tracing, blood pressure, other pressure readings, breathing rate, and your oxygen level. Heart valve repair/replacement surgery requires an in-hospital stay of several days or longer.
You will most likely have a tube in your throat so that your breathing can be assisted with a ventilator (breathing machine) until you are stable enough to breathe on your own. As you wake up from the anesthesia more and start to breathe by yourself, the breathing machine will be adjusted to allow you to take over more of the breathing. When you are awake enough to breathe completely by yourself and to be able to cough, the breathing tube will be removed. The stomach tube will also be removed at this time.
After the breathing tube is out, your nurse will assist you to cough and take deep breaths every two hours. This will be uncomfortable due to soreness, but it is extremely important that you do this in order to keep mucus from collecting in your lungs and possibly causing pneumonia.
You may have pain medication if you are hurting, and you should ask for the medication before you become extremely uncomfortable. Your nurse will show you how to hug a pillow tightly against your chest while coughing to help ease the discomfort.
You may be on special IV drips to help your blood pressure and your heart and to control any problems with bleeding. As your condition stabilizes, these drips will be gradually decreased and turned off as your condition allows.
Once the breathing and stomach tubes have been removed and your condition has stabilized, you may start liquids to drink. Your diet may be gradually advanced to more solid foods as you tolerate them.
When your physician determines that you are ready, you will be moved from the ICU to a post-surgical unit or acute care unit. Your recovery will continue to progress. Your activity will be gradually increased as you get out of bed and walk around for longer periods of time. Your diet will be advanced to solid foods as you tolerate them.
Arrangements will be made for a follow-up visit with your physician.
Once you are home, it will be important to keep the surgical area clean and dry. Your physician will give you specific bathing instructions. The sutures or surgical staples will be removed during a follow-up office visit, if they were not removed before leaving the hospital.
You should not drive until your physician tells you to. Other activity restrictions may apply.
Notify your physician to report any of the following:
Your physician may give you additional or alternate instructions after the procedure, depending on your particular situation.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease, or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your physician. Please consult your physician with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.
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