Understanding Your Heart Valve Treatment Options

doctor talking to patients

Recovery statistics are very good for people who receive proper treatment.

Some people live long and full lives with mild valvular problems and never need surgery. But once a heart valve begins to affect the heart’s ability to pump blood, it's likely to require a repair or replacement.

Treatment for valve disease will include a plan to:

  1. Protect your heart from further damage.
  2. Assess your need for medication to help manage symptoms.
  3. Repair the valve problem if needed.
  4. Communicate steps for management, self-care and the importance of follow-up care.

Generally, once it's determined that a diseased heart valve needs treatment, the available choices are valve repair or replacement:

Is it possible to treat valve diseases with medications alone?

Most valve conditions can't be treated with medication alone. However, sometimes the problem isn’t severe enough to require repair or valve replacement, but it’s bothersome enough to cause symptoms or risks. In these cases, a condition might be effectively managed for a while with medication.

Medications may be prescribed to:

  1. Reduce unpleasant symptoms from milder forms of the disorder.
  2. Maintain heart rhythm if a related arrhythmia is present.
  3. Lower the patient’s risk for clotting and stroke.

Heart valve disease is usually progressive. The outlook for those who receive no treatment can be poor. But many who do receive treatment go on to live very full and healthy lives, especially when their cardiovascular risks are otherwise low.

What happens if I don’t treat my condition or ignore recommendations?

Valve disease isn’t a condition that can be ignored. You may feel fine and not notice any problems for years. But once you begin to experience symptoms such as angina (chest pain), syncope (fainting or sudden loss of consciousness) and dyspnea (breathing difficulty or discomfort), life expectancy and quality of life can decline. 

Evidence is also clear that, with proper treatment, most people enjoy an improvement in health and quality of life.

What are the risks associated with valve disease treatment?

As with all surgeries, there are risks. Because every patient is different, your doctor and your health care team will discuss your treatment options and recommend the best option for you.

People who have damaged, repaired or replaced heart valves are at increased risk for developing an infection of the valve, known as infective endocarditis.

Is it true that dental work can increase risks for people with heart valve problems?

It depends. The American Heart Association does not recommend antibiotics before dental procedures, except for patients at the highest risk of endocarditis. If a person has had heart valve surgery but has not had a heart valve replaced, the cardiologist or surgeon will decide if antibiotics are needed. Read more about the antibiotic prophylaxis guidelines for infective endocarditis.

Additional resources:

Video: Four Basic Heart Valve Treatment Options
Your Heart Surgery: Rehab and Recovery
Your Heart Surgery: Realization and Repair