Nearly 11 million Americans have heart valve disease, which is when one or more of the heart’s valves don’t work properly. The heart’s valves keep blood flowing in the correct direction throughout the body. The valves (mitral, tricuspid, pulmonary and aortic) have “leaflets” that open and close when your heartbeats. If your valves don’t open or close properly, blood flow can be disrupted, and cause shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling, or fatigue.

The most common types of valve problems include:

  • Regurgitation: when the leaflets don’t close properly, causing blood to leak backward into your heart.
  • Stenosis: when the leaflets become thickened or stiff and may even fuse together. This creates a narrow opening resulting in reduced blood flow.

Many health complications can arise from valve disease, including heart failure, stroke, blood clots, heart rhythm abnormalities, and even death. Valve disease can present itself differently between individuals. Some people have no symptoms while others may experience sudden onset of symptoms. Even though symptoms are not always present, valve disease can cause serious damage. Symptoms of valve disease include:

  • Chest pain or palpitations
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty catching your breath
  • Fatigue, weakness, or inability to maintain regular activity
  • Lightheadedness or even loss of consciousness

There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to treatment for valve disease. There are a variety of options available, in some cases, the valve can be repaired, otherwise, a replacement can be done using either a mechanical or biological valve. There are also different approaches to how to repair or replace the valve including transcatheter, minimally invasive, and standard surgical approaches. Your surgeon will determine the most appropriate approach to treating your heart valve disease depending on your condition, age, and lifestyle.

Valve Repair vs. Valve Replacement
Heart valve repair surgery includes preserving the heart’s valves through patching holes, reconnecting leaflets, removing excess tissue, or tightening the ring (annulus) around the valve. Advantages to valve repair include preservation of the heart’s structure, function, and longer durability.

If your valve can’t be repaired, then your physician may choose a valve replacement procedure, which uses biological or mechanical valves to replace your heart’s weakened or diseased valve. Your physician will work with you to determine valve repair or replacement based on the severity of the disease, age, and overall health.

Valve Types – Biological vs. Mechanical
If you are a candidate for valve replacement, there are two main types of valves. Biological valves are often made from cow, pig or human heart tissue. Depending on your age, biological valves may need to be replaced again in the future because just like your current valves, they can weaken and break down over time.

Mechanical valves are made from strong, durable materials, and are more durable than biological valves which means that the valve should last lifelong with a single surgery. If you decide to have a mechanical valve, you will need to take blood thinners the rest of your life to help prevent blood clots, which are can occur with these types of valves. Mechanical valves are often recommended for those 50 and younger.

Minimally Invasive First Approach
When your valve needs repair or replacement, the comprehensive team of specialists at MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Long Beach Medical Center will work together to determine the best option for you by utilizing the least-invasive approaches to treatments.

Minimally invasive treatments spare healthy tissue, reduce scarring and bleeding, lower infection risk, decrease length of hospital stay and accelerate recovery time. With these techniques, surgeons perform procedures through small incisions using specialized surgical instruments or through catheter-based approaches.

No matter the treatment, the cardiovascular physicians and surgeons at the MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute will work with you to determine the best treatment plan for your unique needs. 

Your health won’t wait. Seek care when you need it.