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Surgery: What to Expect – Heart Valve Replacement

In most cases, heart valve replacement is an open heart operation. This means that the surgeon opens your chest and heart to remove the damaged valve. The new artificial (prosthetic) valve is then sewn into place. In some cases, the valve can be replaced without opening the chest. Called minimally invasive surgery, the damaged valve is replaced through a small incision near the "breastbone" or under your right chest muscle.

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.

During the Procedure

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 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 some procedures that may be performed on a beating heart. Your surgeon will decide which type of procedure is best for your particular needs.

A minimally invasive technique may also be an option for you. With recent advances in technologies and procedural techniques, more cardiac surgeons are using minimally invasive procedures to replace heart valves.

These procedures may potentially reduce pain, scarring, and your recovery time. You and your doctor will determine which method will best treat 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 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.

After the Procedure

When your heart valve has been replaced and the surgery is completed, your heart will be beating on its own and all incisions will be sewn or stapled 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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