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Heart Valve Surgery
The heart is a marvelous creation, designed to pump blood through the body 24/7/365 and in leap years 366. Awake or asleep, man depends on the heart to perform its functions. No one consciously directs that work. The heart works without conscious decision or effort.
However, heart valve disease can hinder that operation. Heart valves are strong, thin flaps of tissue that open and close to allow blood to flow properly through the heart. As the heart pumps, the valves dilate back and forth, allowing blood to flow in the right direction. They work hard, move with every heartbeat.
Heart valve disease
Heart valve disease causes the valves to not open enough to allow blood to flow freely. Or the opposite can happen – the valves can’t close completely and blood leaks out of the chambers when they don’t. Heart valve disease causes the heart to work harder. This can lead to heart failure.
Heart valve disease can be present at birth and cause problems silently as a child grows. Heart valve disease can also occur later in life due to infections, heart attacks, heart damage, or other heart problems.
Sometimes, heart valve disease is mild. Minor problems do not require treatment. Other times, heart valve disease may require prescription drugs or medical procedures. Surgery may be recommended to repair or replace the problem valve.
Heart valve surgery
Heart valve surgery can be used in one of two ways. A surgeon can repair a valve, or remove it completely and replace it with an artificial valve.
Mitral valves can usually be repaired and left where they are. The aortic valve usually needs to be replaced with an artificial valve.
Once the cardiologist and patient decide to proceed with surgery, they need to consider the options of what type of artificial valve will be used: biological or mechanical.
1. Biological Valves: Biological heart valves are made from human or animal tissue. These valves are often made from pig aortic valves. Some are made from cow tissue.
2. Mechanical valves: Mechanical heart valves are made of metal, plastic and pyrolytic carbon. They are very strong and usually last a lifetime.
Complications of heart valve surgery
Heart valve surgery can have complications. Usually these problems are linked to the type of prosthetic valve used. Although there is slight variation between valve types depending on the patient, surgeons often prefer one over the other because of the way it is sewn.
Complications of heart valve surgery that you may want to discuss with your cardiologist include, but are not limited to, the following.
1. Blood clots form on all mechanical valves. These blood clots put the patient at a low, but definite, risk of stroke. To counteract the risk of blood clots, patients must take blood thinners for life. Blood thinners are usually safe, but they can increase bleeding in the body. If it bleeds into the brain it can lead to death.
2. Blood clots sometimes form on biological valves as well, but the risk is greatly reduced. Patients only take anticoagulants for 6 weeks to 3 months. The main problem with these artificial valves is that they wear out over time and must be replaced. They have a life expectancy of 10 to 15 years, so a young person will need several transplants.
3. Anesthesia and rerouting your blood through a bypass machine can cause heart valve surgery complications such as arrhythmia, pneumonia, kidney failure, stroke, and death.
4. Blood clots are another complication that can occur with heart valve surgery. These usually appear a few days after surgery, causing pain and swelling in the affected leg or foot. If a blood clot dislodges from the leg, it can travel to the lungs and cause shortness of breath, chest pain, or even death.
5. Other complications of heart valve surgery are: bleeding during or after surgery which may require blood transfusion; Infection in chest incision; and deep infections in the heart or breastbone.
6. The new valve may malfunction shortly after surgery or much later, requiring emergency surgery. This is rare, but can result in death.
7. Arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats) can occur after heart valve surgery. These are controlled by medication. They usually stop after a few days or weeks, but some become permanent.
Precautions: The author is not a medical professional, and offers the information in this article for educational purposes only. Please consult your doctor before relying on it in any way.
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