What is an aortic valve replacement?

Aortic valve replacements are treatment options for patients who have aortic valve disease. 

The aortic valve separates the left ventricle from the aorta — the main artery of the body. If the blood flows backward from aorta to the left ventricle, this reduces the amount of blood that reaches the vital organs. 

Symptoms of aortic valve disease include fatigue, chest pain, arrhythmia, shortness of breath and sudden cardiac death.

The goal of an aortic valve repair or aortic valve replacement is to restore normal blood flow, relieve symptoms and potentially prolong your life span. 

Who is a candidate for aortic valve replacement?

If you suffer from moderate to severe aortic valve regurgitation, aortic valve stenosis or congenital heart disease, you may be a candidate for an aortic valve repair or aortic valve replacement.

If left untreated, aortic valve disease can lead to heart attack, heart failure, stroke or sudden cardiac arrest.

What is the difference between aortic valve repair or aortic valve replacement?

Your Mercy Health cardiac team will evaluate your case to determine if you need an aortic valve repair or aortic valve replacement. In many cases, aortic valve repair is preferred due to the decreased risk of complications associated with aortic valve repair. 

Aortic valve repairs are typically performed in the following cases:

  • Bicuspid aortic valve repair - used to treat leaking valves
  • Repair enlarged aorta 
  • Repair valve holes or tears - your cardiac surgeon can repair valve holes or tears with tissue patches

When repairing the valve is not possible, your cardiovascular team may decide to replace the valve. 

What to expect during an aortic valve repair

Aortic valve repair surgery is typically performed through open-heart surgery. This involves opening the chest with a sternotomy, placing you on a heart-lung bypass machine and wiring your bones back together after the procedure.

During the procedure, your Mercy Health cardiac team may perform a balloon valvuloplasty or annuloplasty.

  • Balloon valvuloplasty — infants or children who have aortic stenosis are often treated with a balloon valvuloplasty.
  • Annuloplasty — an annuloplasty involves implanting an artificial ring to tighten or reinforce the annulus (the ring that is around the valve).

What to expect during an aortic valve replacement

During an aortic valve replacement surgery, the valve that is not functioning correctly can be removed and replaced with a new biological or mechanical valve. The new valve can be sewn into the ring around the valve to replace the valve that is not functioning correctly.

  • Biological valve — a biological valve is a replacement valve made from pig tissue, cow tissue or human tissue; they last 15 to 20 years and may have to be replaced as they wear out.
  • Mechanical valve — a mechanical valve is a replacement valve made from mechanical parts that are well-tolerated by the body. 

Mercy Health cardiac experts can perform aortic valve replacement surgery through traditional open-heart surgery or minimally invasive surgery. Your doctors will evaluate your case to determine what technique is right for you. They will evaluate the severity of your symptoms, your age and overall health as well as the risk the surgery poses to you.

Transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR)  is a newer, minimally invasive technique that repairs the damaged valve without having to remove the old valve. During the procedure, your cardiac team will wedge the new replacement valve into the damaged aortic valve place. This procedure gives patients who were too high risk for traditional aortic valve replacement a treatment option.

Risks of an aortic valve replacement

It is important to have an aortic valve repair or aortic valve replacement with experienced surgeons who have a proven track record of success. Even with an experienced cardiac team, complications can occur.

Complications associated with aortic valve repair or aortic valve replacement include:

  • Severe bleeding
  • Blood clots that can lead to pulmonary embolism, heart attack or stroke
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Infection 
  • Valve dysfunction 

Recovery from an aortic valve replacement

Recovery time after an aortic valve repair or an aortic valve replacement will depend on your overall health, age and procedure that you had. You will spend at least a day in the ICU after the procedure and then several days in a regular hospital room before being discharged. While in the hospital, your cardiac team will closely monitor your progress to determine if the repaired or new valve is functioning correctly. 

Once discharged, you should not drive until you are cleared by your doctor. You should also follow his or her discharge instructions on when to return to your daily activities.  

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