Heart valve surgery occurs when a patient has been diagnosed with a damaged valve in their heart (heart valve disease). This can be the result of many things, but we can treat it by replacing the damaged valves with new ones. Your surgeon will discuss the type of valve that is best for you.
It involves making a cut down the middle of the breastbone to access the heart. Some patients are suitable for a minimally invasive operation, which involves making a smaller cut and may lead to quicker recovery times. We will discuss with you the details if a minimally invasive operation is suitable for you.
These are made from materials such as metal or plastic. There is no biological tissue in a mechanical valve. Mechanical valves stop blood from becoming too thick and sticking to it.
If you receive one, you will need to take blood thinning (anticoagulant) medication for the rest of your life. The anticoagulant medication most commonly used is warfarin, but your doctor, nurse and pharmacists will give you advice about this before you leave hospital.
These are obtained from pigs, cows or human donations. Sometimes, tissue obtained from a cow’s heart can be made into a valve.
You do not have to take anticoagulant medication if you have a tissue valve, although it may be necessary for other reasons.
Surgery outcomes and risks
Having heart valve surgery should help improve the quality of your life by reducing its symptoms. It will also reduce the risk of your heart failure from developing further and increase your life expectancy.
All medical procedures carry some risk, but it’s important to remember we wouldn’t recommend any procedure if we didn’t believe that the benefits outweighed any risk.
The most common outcomes and risks are:
- needing a permanent pacemaker – heart valve surgery can disrupt the heart’s regular rhythm, which will return to normal a few days after the surgery. Sometimes this doesn’t happen and some patients will need a permanent pacemaker fitted to regulate their heart rhythm
- artrial fibrillation – this occurs if your heart starts to beat faster, in a more irregular way. It usually settles after a few days and rarely causes any major changes to the way your heart works
- bleeding – some patients may need another operation after heart valve surgery to control bleeding
- wound infection – this is more common with patients who have poorly-controlled diabetes, or other conditions that make them more vulnerable to infection. If this occurs, we can treat it with antibiotics
- renal (kidney) failure – if patients already have kidney problems, this is more common after surgery. We can treat this with dialysis
- stroke – the risk of this happening is higher in patients who have already had a stroke, or mini-strokes (transient ischaemic attacks (TIAs)). We will give you medications, before and after operation, to reduce the risk of a stroke
- death – the risk of not surviving the operation will be higher for patients who are very unwell before their surgery. Your surgeon will discuss this with you at your consultation.
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