Heart Valve Replacements

Heart surgeons during a heart valve operation

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Once you have made the decision to have heart valve replacement surgery, you, along with your surgeon, will need to decide what type of replacement valve is best for you. There are several types of valves currently available for surgeons to use, but there are benefits and downsides to each type.

Your surgeon should help guide you through the decision-making process. Important information like age, your unique heart and valve condition, gender, and the desire to become pregnant will all play a role in the final decision.

What Is an Artificial Heart Valve Replacement?

An artificial valve is also known as a mechanical heart valve or a prosthetic heart valve. It is a man-made valve and may be composed of plastic, metal, polycarbon, and other materials. There are many types and brands available. If you choose an artificial valve, your surgeon may have a personal preference as to which brand is used.

Pros of Artificial Valve Replacement

  • Does not wear out, is unlikely to require additional surgery to replace in the future.
  • Very strong.

Cons of Artificial Valve Replacement

  • Increased risk of endocarditis.
  • Requires lifelong use of blood thinners after surgery.
  • Increased risk during pregnancy.
  • May have an audible click with each heartbeat, which some patients find very annoying.

What Is a Biological Heart Valve Replacement?

A biological heart valve is a heart valve recovered from a donor or created from donor tissue. A cadaveric valve comes from a human donor. Bovine valves are recovered from cows and porcine valves come from pigs. The valve may be an actual valve recovered from a donor or is manufactured from donor tissue such as the pericardium, the sac that surrounds the heart.

Regardless of the source of the valve, once it is recovered, it is treated to remove any live cells that might otherwise cause your body to reject the valve. These valves are also tested to ensure they are strong enough and durable enough to be used in surgery, undergoing rigorous quality testing.

Pros of Biological Heart Valve Replacement

  • A slightly oversized valve may be used in children to accommodate more growth between valve replacement surgeries.
  • No blood thinners are typically required after surgery.
  • Women of childbearing age (or girls who may want children in the future) will have lower risk when pregnant versus an artificial valve requiring blood thinners.

Cons of Biological Heart Valve Replacement

  • Can wear out like a normal heart valve and requires additional surgery to replace when worn out.
  • Not as strong as artificial valves.

Hybrid Heart Valve Replacements

The hybrid valve is an additional type of valve that combines parts of an artificial valve with parts of a biological valve. They vary widely in the materials they are made of and the type of biological components used, and the pros and cons of each type also differ between brands. Your surgeon is your best source of information if you are considering using this type of valve, as each type is unique.​

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Article Sources

  • Heart Valve Replacement. Edwards Lifesciences. http://www.edwards.com/procedures/replacement/aorticmitralproducts.htm
  • Valve Repair or Replacement. The Texas Heart Institute at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital. http://www.texasheartinstitute.org/hic/topics/proced/vsurg.cfm