If you are someone who has been diagnosed with a heart valve problem, your cardiologist or cardiac surgeon may have given you the option of undergoing heart valve replacement surgery. Since it is a serious procedure that requires a long recovery period, it is important that you are well informed about the entire surgery before deciding to go through with it.
Here, we have discussed the procedure of heart valve replacement and the potential risks associated with it.
What is Heart Valve Replacement Surgery?
Heart valve replacement surgery is performed for treating heart valve diseases. Our heart consists of 4 valves which ensure that blood is flowing in the right direction through the heart. When the heart’s valves are not functioning well, then heart valve surgery may be required. In most cases, patients are recommended for this surgery when they are suffering from heart valve problems like stenosis and regurgitation.
Heart valve replacement is preferred when the heart is too damaged, fragile, or scarred to be repaired. Traditional heart valve replacement involves opening your chest for performing the surgery. However, nowadays many minimally invasive options like a TAVR or transcatheter aortic valve replacement exist. This is used to treat a thickened aortic valve that cannot open completely. Such procedures lead to shorter hospital stays.
Am I a Suitable Candidate for Heart Valve Replacement?
It is important to note that not everyone is a suitable candidate for receiving heart valve replacement. The aim of your cardiac surgeon or cardiologist is to provide the safest and best treatment for your heart valve disease.
Thus, the doctor will tailor or recommend a particular treatment based on several factors like
- Your age
- Your general health
- Your heart valve disease
- The severity of your heart valve disease
Depending on these factors, heart valve replacement surgery is usually recommended. If you still feel doubtful about undergoing the procedure, you can take a second opinion from another cardiologist. This can help you determine if a heart valve replacement is right for you or if other better options exist.
What is the Procedure for a Heart Valve Replacement?
A traditional heart valve replacement surgery is a type of open surgery and involves general anesthesia. Once the anesthesia has been administered, the cardiac surgeon cleans the surgical site. Then, an incision is made down the center of your chest to expose the heart. Before beginning the procedure, the surgeon will insert tubes in your heart. These will allow the blood to be pumped across the body with the help of a bypass machine. Once the blood has been diverted to the machine, the surgeon will stop the heart by injecting a cold solution. Then, the surgeon will replace the malfunctioning or diseased valve with a biological or mechanical valve.
After the surgery has been completed, the surgeon will remove the tubes and the blood circulating via the bypass is allowed to return to the heart. Once the heart starts pumping blood again, the cardiac surgeon will observe how well the valve is functioning.
The heart valve replacement surgery may last for about 2 hours. However, the duration can vary depending on the number of heart valves that have to be replaced.
Since this procedure is technically intricate, it is essential that you receive it from a highly experienced and skilled cardiac surgeon at a reputed hospital to minimize the risks of any surgical error.
Are there any Complications Associated with a Heart Valve Replacement?
Though heart valve replacement is a safe procedure, it is not free of flaws. There are certain complications after the surgery that you should know about:
- Bleeding can occur during and after the surgery
- Possibility of an infection at the surgical site or in the new valve
- Damage to your blood vessels
- Pneumonia and breathing problems
- Arrhythmias or irregular heart rhythms may need a pacemaker
- Failure of the new valve
- A reaction to anesthetics
Having read through the surgery and the risks associated with it, you should carefully weigh the pros and cons of the heart valve replacement surgery with your cardiac surgeon before going for the procedure.
Recovery After a Heart Valve Replacement
You will normally have to spend a week or so in the hospital after a heart valve replacement. The amount of time it takes to fully recuperate can vary based on your overall health and age. Your breastbone can heal in about 6-8 weeks but it can take almost 3 months before you begin your normal activities.
After the surgery, cardiac rehabilitation can help you in optimizing your quality of life and fastening your recovery.
Asking Questions to Your Doctor
It is important you ask any questions related to the procedure and the recovery for your understanding and comfort. You can even write these questions and ask them in your next appointment session with your surgeon. Some of the questions you can ask include:
- Can you explain the heart valve replacement surgery to me in detail?
- Is it necessary for me to undergo this procedure?
- Are there any alternative treatment options available for me?
- What are the benefits of this surgery? How long will these last?
- Are there any risks and complications that I should know about?
- What will happen if I don’t undergo heart valve replacement?
- Should I get a second opinion?
The answers to these questions will help you in deciding if getting a heart valve replacement is the right choice. If access to a good cardiac surgeon is a limitation for you, then you can get online consultations with cardiac surgeons.
Avail Heart Valve Replacement Surgery Across the World
Getting major surgery is never a small decision to make. Though your cardiac surgeon will analyze many factors like your age to determine the suitability for heart valve replacement, your comfort with the procedure is as important. Only when you have considered all the aspects, should you think about going for a heart valve replacement.