Heart Health: Understanding Heart Valve Replacement
Heart valve surgery repairs or replaces the diseased heart valves. There are four main valves in the heart - aortic valve, mitral valve, tricuspid valve and pulmonary valve. If a heart valve narrows or closes, then it keeps blood from flowing backwards. Today, let us understand the procedure of heart valve replacement, along with techniques and precautions one needs to take care of when undergoing such a surgery and related risks.
Heart valve disease damages the valves of the heart which then require replacement. The damaged valve is replaced by an artificial valve through surgery. Surgery of the valve is required in two conditions: Regurgitation and stenosis. In regurgitation, the valve does not close all the way, which allows blood to leak backwards, whereas in stenosis, the valve does not open fully, which limits forward blood flow.
When the valves are diseased, they need to be repaired or replaced. In many cases, the valve is damaged up to an extent that can not be repaired and hence require replacement. Presently, among all heart diseases, 35% to 40% patients suffer from heart valve disease mainly due to post rheumatic infection in childhood or by birth malformations in valves. In elderly patients this can be degenerative disease of valve. The original valve is replaced with an artificial valve. The artificial valve could be mechanical or biological. Mechanical valves are made of metal or ceramic and are long lasting. A person with this valve needs to take blood thinning medicines throughout his life. Biological valves are made of human or animal tissue. These valves last for 12 - 15 years. This provides quality life without drugs post operation.
As such there is no particular precaution that needs to be taken, except that the surgery should not be performed on women undergoing pregnancy as it could harm the baby.
Usually it is an open heart surgery procedure. The surgeon makes an incision in the chest and removes the damaged valve by replacing it with a prosthetic valve. In some cases, valve replacement can be done without opening the chest, through less invasive surgery.
In India, more than 1,50,000 patients undergo heart valve operations of repair and replacement, every year. Nowadays heart valve replacement is considered to be a safe heart operation with mortality of less than 2%. But, like any other surgery, factors such as age of the patient, health condition and the degree of damage to the valves contribute to the risk during surgery. Other risks involved are bleeding during or after the surgery, infection at the incision site and blood clots that could cause stroke.
This post was compiled wit expert inputs from Dr. Pavan Kumar, renowned cardiovascular surgeon at Lilavati and Nanavati Hospital, Mumbai.
*Image courtesy: © Thinkstock photos/ Getty Images
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