What is a mitral valve replacement?

Mitral valve replacement surgery is a surgical procedure to replace the mitral valve that is not functioning properly, typically a result from disease such as mitral valve regurgitation or mitral valve stenosis.

The mitral valve is located between the left atrium and left ventricle of the heart, and its function is to keep the blood moving forward through the heart.

Mitral valve replacement may be performed through open-heart surgery or minimally invasive techniques.

Who is a candidate for a mitral valve replacement?

Patients who have a mitral valve that is calcified (mitral valve stenosis) or too loose (mitral valve regurgitation) may be candidates for a mitral valve replacement. A mitral valve that has calcified can prevent blood from moving forward through the valve. When the mitral valve is too loose — blood may flow backward.

Your doctor will evaluate your case to determine how severe your case is, if you are experiencing symptoms and/or if your condition is getting worse. Your cardiovascular team will discuss treatment options with you to determine the most appropriate treatment for your case.

What to expect during a mitral valve replacement?

In patients who have a mitral valve that cannot be repaired, your cardiologist may recommend a mitral valve replacement. During a mitral valve replacement surgery, your doctor will remove the damaged mitral valve and replace it with a biological or mechanical valve.

  • Biological tissue valve — replacement valve made from cow, pig or human heart tissue; biological tissue will degenerate over 15 to 20 years, so it may need to be replaced.
  • Mechanical valve — replacement valve made from man-made materials; patients who have a mechanical valve may need to take blood-thinning medications for life.

Your doctor will weigh the risks and benefits of each valve replacement option and determine the best option for you.

Mitral valve replacement surgery may be done via open-heart surgery or through minimally invasive techniques. Patients who are not candidates for open-heart surgery may be candidates for minimally-invasive mitral valve replacement surgery.

Risks of a mitral valve replacement

Complications associated with mitral valve replacement surgery include:

  • Severe bleeding
  • Blood clots that could lead to a pulmonary embolism, heart attack or stroke 
  • Problems with the replacement valves
  • Arrhythmia (irregular heart rhythms)
  • Infection at incision site

Recovery from a mitral valve replacement

Recovery from mitral valve replacement surgery takes time. After surgery, you will be moved to an ICU before being moved to a regular hospital room. The length of time you spend in either the ICU or regular hospital room will depend on the severity of your condition.

During your hospital stay, your doctor will monitor you closely to ensure the valve is functioning properly.

Many patients can resume day-to-day activities after minimally-invasive mitral valve surgery. Work closely with your doctor to determine when and how quickly you should return to your normal pace.

You should be closely monitored by your physicians and take medications as directed, and your doctor may recommend making some lifestyle changes or participating in a cardiac rehab program to aid recovery.

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