Heart valves regulate the flow of blood through the heart. If a poorly-functioning valve cannot be repaired, it may be replaced with a mechanical or biological valve. Any of the four heart valves can be damaged, but the mitral and aortic valves are the ones most frequently replaced. This animation will show the replacement of the mitral valve.
Blood Flow Diverted
In preparation for the valve replacement, the patient’s chest is opened. The patient’s blood flow is diverted to a heart-lung machine. This machine temporarily takes over the lung’s function of oxygenating the blood and the heart’s function of pumping blood to the body. The surgeon clamps the patient’s aorta. The surgeon administers a medication that stops the patient’s heart. This will preserve the heart muscle during the surgery.
Replacing the Valve
The surgeon opens the heart to expose the poorly-functioning mitral valve. The surgeon carefully removes this faulty valve. The surgeon inserts the new valve and sews it into place within the heart.
End of Procedure
When the replacement is complete, the surgeon removes the clamp on the aorta. The heart starts beating on its own again. The patient is slowly taken off the heart-lung machine while the patient’s own heart and lungs take over. The patient’s chest is closed and bandaged.
After a valve replacement, the patient must take precautions to ensure the health of the heart. If a mechanical valve was implanted, the patient may need to take medication daily to prevent blood clots from forming on the new valve. Damaged valves, as well repaired valves, pose a lifelong risk of infection. Patients must inform their dentists and doctors about their history of heart valve disease and repair so appropriate steps can be taken to prevent valve infection.