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Aortic valve replacement is an open-heart surgery. It is done to replace a malfunctioning aortic valve with a new one. The replacement valve may be:
- Mechanical—It is made entirely out of artificial materials.
- Bioprosthetic—This valve is made out of a combination of artificial materials and tissues from a pig, cow, or other animal.
- Homograft or allograft—The valve is harvested from a donated human heart.
- Ross procedure (self-donated)—In selected patients less than 50 years of age, another one of the patient’s own heart valves, the pulmonic valve, may be removed from its original location and sewn in to take the place of the faulty aortic valve. A homograft is then sewn in to take the original place of the pulmonic valve.
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What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
Your doctor will likely do the following:
- Physical exam
- Blood tests
- Echocardiogram —This is a test that uses sound waves to produce a moving picture of your heart and its valves.
- Electrocardiogram —This is a test of the electrical system of your heart.
- Cardiac catheterization —For this test, a very thin tube is threaded up through your aorta. Contrast is squirted through the catheter, and x-ray images are captured. These images can reveal problems with the functioning of your aortic valve and also determine whether your heart arteries are free from disease.
Leading up to your procedure:
- Talk to your doctor about your medicines. You may be asked to stop taking some medicines up to one week before the procedure, like:
- Aspirin or other anti-inflammatory drugs
- Blood thinners, such as clopidogrel (Plavix) or warfarin (Coumadin)
- Do not eat or drink anything after midnight the night before your surgery, unless told otherwise by your doctor.
- Arrange for help at home after you return from the hospital.
- Arrange to have someone drive you home when you leave the hospital.
- Wear comfortable clothing.
Aortic valve replacement is done with general anesthesia . You will be asleep.
Description of the Procedure
An incision will be made down the middle of your chest. The breastbone will be separated so that your heart can be reached. A heart-lung machine will be attached. The machine will act as your heart and lungs. This allows the doctor to stop your heart to safely work on the heart valve.
An incision will be made in the aorta. The damaged valve will be cut out and a new valve will be sewn into place. The aorta will then be sewn back together. The heart will be started up again and the heart-lung machine will be removed. The breastbone will be wired together. The skin incision in the chest will be sewn back together.
After the Procedure
You will be monitored in an intensive care unit directly after surgery. When you awaken, you will notice that you are attached to a number of devices, including:
- Monitors to track your heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, and the percentage of oxygen in your bloodstream
- Ventilator tube in your mouth and into your lungs to breathe for you, or an oxygen mask or tube to give you extra oxygen
- Tubes to drain extra fluid from your chest
- A tube that goes into your nose and down to your stomach to drain your stomach of excess fluid and gas
- A catheter in your bladder to drain urine
- An IV line to provide fluids, electrolytes, and pain medicines directly into a vein
How Long Will It Take?
About 2-4 hours
How Much Will It Hurt?
Anesthesia will block pain during the surgery. The incision in the chest and breastbone will cause pain after the surgery. You will be given pain medicine to help manage the pain.
Average Hospital Stay
The usual length of stay is 5-7 days. The length of stay will depend on your overall health and your recovery progress. Your doctor may choose to keep you longer if complications arise.
At the Hospital
You will usually be in the intensive care unit for 1-2 days. Then you will be moved to a regular hospital room, where you will stay for several more days. You will be allowed to walk soon after your surgery.
You may be given a device called an incentive spirometer. You will be asked to use it every couple of hours during the day. This helps keep your lungs as open as possible. This can help you avoid pneumonia.
You can expect to be able to resume your normal activities within about six weeks of surgery. You should follow your doctor’s directions regarding when you can begin to drive, exercise, lift things, and otherwise exert yourself.
- If you have a mechanical valve, you will have to take blood-thinning medicines (anticoagulants) for the rest of your life. They are needed to keep clots from forming around the valve.
- Depending on the type of valve you have, you will need to take an antibiotic whenever you have dental procedures or certain surgical procedures.
- You may be referred to cardiac rehabilitation. This can help you regain normal functioning and reduce the chance of future problems.
- Be sure to follow your doctor's instructions.
American Heart Association
Cleveland Clinic Heart Center
The Society of Thoracic Surgeons
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Mount Sinai Hospital, Canada
Townsend CM et al., (eds).
Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 17th edition. St. Louis, MO: WB Saunders Co.; 2004.
Zipes DP., ed.
Braunwald’s Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 7th edition. St. Louis, MO: WB Saunders Co.; 2005.