If you need to have a heart valve replacement, you have several choices to consider when discussing your heart valve options with your medical professional. The type of valve and surgical approach have an impact on both your short-term recovery and longer-term quality of life.
Replacement valve’s durability and performance
The ideal replacement valve offers excellent valve function and works in coordination with the entire circulatory system to protect each part from damage. Your medical professional may refer to this as “excellent hemodynamic performance.”
Replacement valve’s risks and medication requirements
The ideal replacement valve also offers long-term durability without significantly increasing the risk of dangerous blood clots.
*Blood thinner medications can lower your risks of a clot-related stroke or embolism (traveling clot). Clot-risks are higher for people with mechanical valves. People on blood thinners must be carefully monitored because blood that's too thin could increase the risk of bleeding.
Patients and their medical professionals should discuss treatment options and share in the decision-making process to choose the most appropriate treatment.
Possible choices include:
Manufactured Mechanical Valve
These valves are made of strong, durable materials. They are the most long-lasting type of replacement valve. Most will last throughout a patient’s life.
Patients who receive a manufactured valve will almost always require a blood-thinning medication for the rest of their lives. The blood thinner will keep clots from forming, which is critical because clots can lodge in the valve flaps or hinges and cause a malfunction. Clots can also break off and form into an embolism (traveling clot), which may move through the bloodstream and lodge into a vessel where it may lead to problems such as heart attack or stroke.
Donor Valve Implantation
Human donor valves are often used for someone suffering from a condition that affects the valve, such as infective endocarditis. A donor valve can be expected to last 10 to 20 years.
Tissue valves are created from animal donors’ valves or animal tissue that's strong and flexible. Tissue valves can last 10 to 20 years, and usually don't require the long-term use of medication. For a young person with a tissue valve replacement, the need for additional surgery or another valve replacement later in life is highly likely.
For each surgery in which the valve must be replaced, careful considerations should be given to durability of the valve, medication options and risks. If you need a valve procedure, heart valve centers of excellence are recommended. The centers are located throughout the country and must meet very high standards of care.
You have options when choosing a heart valve. Survivor Robert Epps shares the factors that influenced his own heart valve choice: