What is valve replacement?


Severe valve damage means that the valve will need to be replaced. Valve replacement is most often used to treat aortic valves and severely damaged mitral valves. It is also used to treat any valve disease that is life-threatening. Sometimes, more than one valve may be damaged in the heart, so patients may need more than one repair or replacement.

There are 2 kinds of valves used for valve replacement:

  • Mechanical valves, which are usually made from materials such as plastic, carbon, or metal. Mechanical valves are strong, and they last a long time. Because blood tends to stick to mechanical valves and create blood clots, patients with these valves will need to take blood-thinning medicines (called anticoagulants) for the rest of their lives.
  • Biological valves, which are made from animal tissue (called a xenograft) or taken from the human tissue of a donated heart (called an allograft or homograft). Sometimes, a patient's own tissue can be used for valve replacement (called an autograft). Patients with biological valves usually do not need to take blood-thinning medicines. These valves are not as strong as mechanical valves, though, and they may need to be replaced every 10 years or so. Biological valves break down even faster in children and young adults, so these valves are used most often in elderly patients.

Minimally Invasive Valve Surgery


Minimally invasive heart valve surgery is a technique that uses smaller incisions to repair or replace heart valves. This means there is less pain. Minimally invasive surgery also reduces the length of the hospital stay and the recovery time.

Minimally invasive valve surgery can only be done in certain patients. This type of surgery cannot be done in patients

  • With severe valve damage
  • Who need more than one valve repaired or replaced
  • Who have clogged arteries (atherosclerosis)
  • Who are obese

In some cases, minimally invasive valve surgery can be done using a robot. Robotic surgery does not require a large incision in the chest. It is not available at all hospitals, and patients with severe valve damage cannot have the procedure. The Texas Heart Institute has a robot.

With robotic surgery, the surgeon has a control console, a side cart with 3 robotic arms, a special vision system, and instruments. A computer translates the surgeon's natural hand and wrist movements made on the control console to instruments that have been placed inside the patient through small incisions. The robot's controls can read even the tiniest of movements the surgeon makes.
Robotic surgery can reduce the time it takes to do valve surgery, as well as shorten the hospital stay and recovery time.