Heart valve surgery is a procedure to treat heart valve disease. In heart valve disease, at least one of the four heart valves that keep blood flowing in the correct direction through your heart doesn't function properly. In heart valve surgery, your surgeon repairs or replaces the affected heart valves.

Heart valve diseases that may be treated by heart valve surgery include:

Heart valve surgery can result in:

  • Improved quality of life
  • Prolonged life
  • Reduced symptoms
  • Preservation of the function of your heart muscle

While all open-heart surgeries involve some risk, major complications are rare because of improved technology and surgical techniques. Most heart valve repair and replacement surgeries are successful in restoring the function of your heart with a low rate of complications.

Complications could include:

  • Bleeding
  • Heart attack
  • Infection
  • Irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia)
  • Stroke
  • Surgery needed for a new valve, in some instances, if the heart valve fails over time
  • Cardiac expertise. Mayo Clinic is one of the largest medical centers in the United States for heart valve surgery. In addition to surgery on people who are found to have valve problems for the first time, Mayo surgeons also perform complex heart valve surgeries, including surgeries for people who have high surgical risks or who have previously had heart valve surgery.
  • A team approach. The Mayo Clinic heart valve team, along with heart surgeons and doctors with special training in heart disease (cardiologists), provides you with integrated, coordinated and comprehensive heart care.
  • Cutting-edge medicine. Mayo Clinic heart surgeons may perform minimally invasive heart surgery, including video thoracoscopic and robot-assisted surgery, in selected patients. Minimally invasive surgery involves the use of smaller incisions, and you may have less pain and a shorter recovery period after minimally invasive surgery. Mitral valve repair is one of the most common minimally invasive heart surgeries performed at Mayo Clinic.

    Mayo Clinic cardiologists and surgeons perform transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) in selected patients at high risk of open-heart surgery. In TAVR, an artificial valve mounted on a catheter is inserted through an artery and expanded across a damaged valve, eliminating the need for open-heart surgery.

Related book: Mayo Clinic Healthy Heart for Life! book provides an easy-to-follow plan to prevent and conquer heart disease.

Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., is ranked among the Best Hospitals for heart and heart surgery by U.S. News & World Report.

At Mayo Clinic, we assemble a team of specialists who take the time to listen and thoroughly understand your health issues and concerns. We tailor the care you receive to your personal health care needs. You can trust our specialists to collaborate and offer you the best possible outcomes, safety and service.

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Types

Mayo Clinic heart (cardiac) surgeons perform heart valve surgery to treat many types of heart valve disease. Your surgeon can perform many procedures using minimally invasive heart surgery, using smaller incisions than in open-heart surgery.

Your treatment depends on several factors, including your age, your general health, the condition of your heart valves and your preference. A team of heart specialists (cardiologists), heart surgeons and other specialists work with you to determine the appropriate surgery to treat your condition.

Heart valve specialists and surgeons agree that whenever possible, a heart valve should be repaired rather than replaced. Heart valve repair leaves you with your normally functioning tissue, and you may not need to take lifelong blood-thinning medications.

Repair may be possible if you have a problem with your mitral valve not closing properly (regurgitation). There are three mechanisms by which your surgeon may repair the valve. Your surgeon may use one of more of these procedures.

  • Annuloplasty. In this procedure, your surgeon tightens the tissue around the valve by implanting an artificial ring. This allows the leaflets to come together and close the abnormal opening through the valve.
  • Repair of structural support. In this procedure, your surgeon replaces or shortens the cords that support the valves (chordae tendineae and papillary muscles) to repair the structural support. When the cords and muscles are the right length, the valve leaflet edges meet and eliminate the leak.
  • Valve leaflet repair. In valve leaflet repair, your surgeon surgically separates, cuts or pleats a valve flap (leaflet).

If your heart valve can't be repaired, your surgeon will remove your damaged valve and replace it with an artificial (prosthetic) valve. You may need heart valve replacement if you have valve narrowing (stenosis) or severely damaged valves affected by calcium buildup in the valves (calcification) or rheumatic disease.

Transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) is a minimally invasive procedure to replace a narrowed aortic valve that fails to open properly (aortic stenosis). TAVR is typically reserved for people who can't undergo open-heart surgery or for people for whom surgery presents too many risks. TAVR is sometimes called transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI).

Surgeons perform procedures often to replace mitral or aortic valves, but your surgeon can replace any heart valve.

Types of heart valve replacements include:

  • Mechanical valves. Mechanical valves are made of synthetic materials, which are designed to last many years. However, blood tends to stick to mechanical valves and create blood clots. If you have a mechanical valve, you'll need to take blood-thinning medicines (anticoagulants) for life.
  • Biological valves. Biological valves, or tissue valves, are made from animal tissue (xenograft) or taken from the human tissue of a donated heart (called an allograft or homograft). Sometimes, your own tissue can be used for valve replacement (known as an autograft, or Ross, procedure).

    If you have a biological valve, you may not need to take lifelong blood-thinning medication. However, biological valves aren't as durable as mechanical valves, and they eventually may need to be replaced. Surgeons most often use biological valves in older adults.

See a video on mitral valve repair.

Mayo Clinic works with hundreds of insurance companies and is an in-network provider for millions of people. In most cases, Mayo Clinic doesn't require a physician referral. Some insurers require referrals or may have additional requirements for certain medical care. All appointments are prioritized on the basis of medical need.

Experienced Mayo specialists in cardiovascular diseases and cardiovascular and thoracic surgery at Mayo Clinic in Arizona coordinate the diagnosis and treatment of adults who have heart valve disease.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 800-446-2279 (toll-free) 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

Specialists in cardiothoracic surgery, cardiovascular diseases, heart transplant and the Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Program treat adults who have heart valve surgery at Mayo Clinic in Florida.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 904-953-0853 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

The Mayo Heart Valve Disease Clinic at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota uses a team approach to diagnose and treat people who have heart valve disease. Doctors with training in heart valve disease work with heart rhythm specialists (electrophysiologists), heart surgeons and other specialists to coordinate your care. Mayo Clinic is one of the largest and most experienced medical centers in the United States for heart valve disease treatment.

Your examination, diagnosis and patient education may be able to be completed within a day or two. If surgery is necessary, a cardiac surgeon meets with you to discuss your options. In most cases, surgery can be performed the next day. Mayo Clinic cardiac surgeons perform more than 1,400 heart valve surgeries each year.

For appointments or more information, call Cardiology and Vascular Medicine at 507-284-3994 or the Division of Cardiovascular Surgery at 507-255-2000 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Central time, Monday through Friday, or complete an online appointment request form. No physician referral is necessary.

Cardiologists generally can see most people within two weeks after their appointment requests, and often cardiologists can see them within a week or less after the appointment request. Patients with urgent issues can usually be seen within 24 hours after their requests. In emergencies, people are directly transferred to inpatient hospital care.

Specialists in pediatric cardiology and cardiovascular surgery treat children who have heart valve disease at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Pediatric heart surgeons perform heart valve repair when possible, often using minimally invasive techniques.

Children needing hospitalization receive care at Mayo Eugenio Litta Children's Hospital at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 507-538-3270 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Central time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

Please refer to the international appointment section to request appointments via phone.

See information on patient services at the three Mayo Clinic locations, including transportation options and lodging.

Mayo Clinic doctors who have training in heart disease (cardiologists), surgeons and other researchers developed innovative surgical techniques for heart valve repair and replacement. Researchers actively study new treatment and surgical techniques for people who have heart valve disease or who may need heart valve surgery. Learn more about research on the research website.

Publications

See a list of publications by Mayo Clinic doctors on heart valve disease on PubMed, a service of the National Library of Medicine.

Mar. 21, 2014