Heart Valve Surgery

Published On 07/11/2011

Heart valve repair or replacement surgery is a treatment option for valvular heart disease. When heart valves become damaged or diseased, they may not function properly. Conditions which may cause heart valve dysfunction are valvular stenosis and valvular insufficiency (regurgitation).

When one (or more) valve(s) becomes stenotic (stiff), the heart muscle must work harder to pump the blood through the valve. Some reasons why heart valves become stenotic include infection (such as rheumatic fever or staphylococcus infections) and aging. If one or more valves become insufficient (leaky), blood leaks backwards, which means that less blood is pumped in the proper direction. The physician may decide that the diseased valve(s) needs to be surgically repaired or replaced.

Traditionally, repair or replacement of heart valves has involved open-heart surgery, which means that the chest is opened in the operating room and the heart stopped for a time so that the surgeon may repair or replace the valve(s). In order to open the chest, the breastbone, or sternum, is cut in half and spread apart. Once the heart is exposed, large tubes are inserted into the heart so that the blood could be pumped through the body during the surgery by a cardiopulmonary bypass machine (heart-lung machine). The bypass machine is necessary to pump blood because the heart is stopped and kept still while the surgeon performs the valve repair or replacement procedure.

Newer, less invasive techniques have been developed to replace or repair heart valves. Minimally-invasive procedures in which the incision is much smaller often mean less pain post-operatively and shorter hospital stays. Valvuloplasty is another method that may be used to treat valve stenosis in some cases.

To find a cardiovascular surgeon in Memphis, Tennessee, please use our physician locator or call 888.777.5959.