The heart valves play a vital role in ensuring blood flows correctly through the heart and the rest of the body. If they do not function correctly, a person may require surgery to replace the damaged valve.

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The heart valves open and close to support blood pumping throughout the body. They also ensure blood flows in the right direction around the heart to pick up oxygen and nutrients before delivering both around the body.

However, the valves can experience various health problems, including leaking and narrowing.

When this happens, a person can get surgery to replace the impaired heart valve. Several options are available for valve replacement surgery. Various valve replacement devices can help restore blood flow through the heart.

The heart has four valves, but surgeons most commonly perform replacements on the aortic and mitral valves. Different procedures use different types of replacement valves. These valves can be either artificial or donated from a biological source, like a human or animal.

Several factors affect which type of heart valve a surgeon uses, including:

In this article, we discuss the surgical treatments currently available for managing heart valve problems.

Mechanical valves are artificial. They are made of robust materials. Most mechanical valves will stay functional for the rest of a person’s life after implantation.

Blood clots may form on the flaps and hinges of the valve, which can stop it from working. For this reason, blood-thinning medication is typically needed on a daily basis after mechanical valve replacement.

Blood thinners can help reduce the risk of the clots breaking off, escaping into the bloodstream, and causing a blockage that can lead to stroke or heart attack.

Some people may benefit from the implanted valves of another person. These deceased-donor valves can last 10–20 years. They are often used to treat heart conditions such as infective endocarditis.

Donor valves play a key role in the Ross procedure.

The Ross procedure is particularly useful and effective for people with aortic valve problems.

As the valve responsible for pumping all blood back out to the body, the aortic valve requires a lot of force. A replacement aortic valve implant may need replacing sooner than other valves since the increased pressure can cause failure.

In the Ross procedure, a surgeon replaces the faulty aortic valve with the pulmonary valve, which has a similar shape to the aortic valve. A donor valve then takes the original place of the pulmonary valve. In this position, an implanted valve puts less force into pumping blood and is less likely to need replacement.

The Ross procedure also eliminates the need to take blood thinners long term.

Also known as biological valves, tissue valves consist of animal tissue, sometimes with artificial components. They largely come from the heart valves of pigs or the heart sacs of cows.

A person with a tissue valve implant will not need to take blood thinners long term.

Tissue valves do not last as long as mechanical valves. A replacement may be necessary 10–20 years later, especially for younger people.

Some doctors may also refer to this procedure as transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI).

Similar to placing a stent in an artery to reduce narrowing, a surgeon instead implants an expandable replacement valve to the site of a narrowed aortic valve through a catheter.

Once the replacement valve is in place, the surgeon moves the old valve out of the way. The tissue of the implant starts to control the blood flow instead of the damaged or faulty valve.

TAVR is suitable for some people who have severe symptoms of a narrowed aortic valve, also known as aortic stenosis.

TAVR can help a person avoid invasive open-heart surgery. This is because it is achievable through a much smaller opening in the chest or via a large artery in the groin called the femoral artery.

With TAVR, a person is likely to spend less time recovering in the hospital after the procedure than they would for open-heart surgery.

Several options are available for heart valve replacements, including biological and mechanical replacement valves.

Some procedures, like the Ross procedure, move existing healthy valves to the location of the faulty valves, replacing the healthy ones in less pressurized locations.

Typically, a surgeon may implant a heart valve via open-heart surgery. However, some approaches, such as TAVR, may involve using a catheter, which is less invasive.

Given the range of treatments, it’s important to consult a physician to determine the most appropriate procedure for a person’s age, the severity of symptoms, and their medical history.