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Surgery: What to Expect – Heart Valve Repair

In most cases, heart valve repair is an open heart operation. This means that the surgeon opens your chest and heart to repair the defective heart valve.

Before the Procedure

How long the operation takes depends on how much heart disease is present. Your surgeon will discuss this with you before the operation.

To help you learn about the procedure, your doctor may suggest a number of actions, including:

  • Talking with different members of the surgical team, such as the anesthesiologist, surgeon, cardiologist, respiratory therapist, and nurses
  • Discussing with family members the details of the operation
  • Visiting the intensive care unit (ICU) where you may be sent for postoperative recovery

During the Procedure

During the operation, the surgeon opens your chest to get to your heart and the problem valve. You will be asleep during the operation and will feel no pain.

During the majority of procedures, your heart will be temporarily stopped, and you'll be put on a heart/lung machine that takes over your breathing and blood circulation. Alternatively, there are procedures that may be performed on a beating heart. Your surgeon will decide which type of procedure is best for your particular needs.

Procedures that let the surgeon get to the damaged valve through a small incision in the "breastbone" (sternum) or under the right pectoral muscle in your chest are called minimally invasive procedures.

With recent advances in technologies and procedural techniques, more cardiac surgeons are using minimally invasive procedures to repair heart valves. These procedures may potentially reduce pain, scarring, and your recovery time. You and your doctor will decide if this is a practical procedure for your condition.

Heart valve replacement surgery is performed with one of the three types of incisions shown in this illustration. Minimally invasive surgery uses a 'mini' incision in the 'breastbone' (sternum) or under your right pectoral muscle to access the heart valve.

Detail - Heart valve replacement surgery is performed with one of the three types of incisions shown in this illustration. Minimally invasive surgery uses a "mini" incision in the "breastbone" (sternum) or under your right pectoral muscle to access the heart valve.

Heart valve repair is performed with one of the three types of incisions shown in this illustration. Minimally invasive surgery uses a "mini" incision in the sternum or under the pectoral muscle in your chest to access the heart valve.

Your surgeon may perform one or several of these procedures as he or she repairs your heart valve:

  • Resize the valve by removing extra tissue
  • Remove calcium deposits that may have built up around the valve leaflets 
  • Repair the cords that control the movement of the valve leaflets
  • Reattach the valve to its cords
  • Add support to the base of the valve (annulus) by adding tissue or by sewing an annulus band or ring around the outside of the valve

After the Procedure

When the heart valve has been repaired and the surgery is completed, your heart will be beating and all incisions will be closed.

Following the surgery, you'll spend some time in the intensive care unit (ICU) where you will be closely monitored to make sure there are no complications. After that, you'll be moved to another room where your family and friends will be able to visit you.

Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.

Last updated: 22 Sep 2010

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