Mitral valve surgery is surgery to either repair or replace the mitral valve in your heart.
Blood flows from the lungs and enters the left atrium of the heart. The blood then flows into the left ventricle. The mitral valve is located between these two chambers. It makes sure that the blood keeps moving forward.
You may need surgery on your mitral valve if:
The mitral valve is hardened (calcified). This prevents blood from moving forward through the valve.
The mitral valve is too loose. Blood tends to flows backward when this occurs.
Minimally invasive mitral valve surgery is done through several small cuts. Another type of operation, open mitral valve surgery requires a larger cut.
There are several different ways to perform minimally invasive mitral valve surgery.
Your heart surgeon may make a 2-inch to 3-inch-long cut in the right part of your chest near the sternum (breastbone). Muscles in the area will be divided. This lets the surgeon reach the heart. A small cut is made in the left side of your heart so the surgeon can repair or replace the mitral valve.
In endoscopic surgery, your surgeon makes 1 - 4 small holes in your chest. Surgery is done through the cuts using a camera and special surgical tools. For robotically-assisted valve surgery, the surgeon makes 2 - 4 tiny cuts in your chest. The cuts are about 1/2 to 3/4 inches each. The surgeon uses a special computer to control robotic arms during the surgery. A 3D view of the heart and mitral valve are displayed on a computer in the operating room. This method is very precise.
You may need a heart-lung machine for these types of surgery. You will be connected to this device through small cuts in the groin or on the chest. If you do not need a heart-lung machine, your heart rate will be slowed by medicine or a mechanical device.
If your surgeon can repair your mitral valve, you may have:
Ring annuloplasty -- The surgeon repairs the ring-like part around the valve by sewing a ring of metal, cloth, or tissue around the valve.
Valve repair -- The surgeon trims, shapes, or rebuilds one or both of the flaps that open and close the valve.
You will need a new valve if there is too much damage to your mitral valve. This is called replacement surgery. Your surgeon will remove your mitral valve and sew a new one into place. There are two main types of new valves:
Mechanical -- made of man-made materials, such as titanium and carbon. These valves last the longest. You will need to take blood-thinning medicine, such as warfarin (Coumadin) or aspirin, for the rest of your life.
Biological -- made of human or animal tissue. These valves last 10 - 12 years, but you may not need to take blood thinners for life.
The surgery may take 2 -4 hours.
This surgery can sometimes be done through a groin artery, with no cuts on your chest. The doctor sends a catheter (flexible tube) with a balloon attached on the end. The balloon inflates to stretch the opening of the valve. This procedure is called percutaneous valvuloplasty.
Why the Procedure Is Performed
You may need surgery if your mitral valve does not work properly because:
You have mitral regurgitation -- a mitral valve that does not close all the way and allows blood to leak back into the left atria
You have mitral stenosis -- a mitral valve that does not open fully and restricts blood flow
Your valve has developed an infection (infectious endocarditis)
What medicines you are taking, even drugs, supplements, or herbs you bought without a prescription
You may be able to store blood in the blood bank for transfusions during and after your surgery. Ask your surgeon about how you and your family members can donate blood.
If you smoke, you must stop. Ask your doctor for help.
During the days before your surgery:
For the 2-week period before surgery, you may be asked to stop taking medicines that make it harder for your blood to clot. These might cause increased bleeding during the surgery. Some of these medicines include aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn).
If you are taking warfarin (Coumadin) or clopidogrel (Plavix), talk with your surgeon before stopping or changing how you take these drugs.
Ask your doctor which drugs you should still take on the day of your surgery.
Prepare your house for when you get home from the hospital.
Shower and wash your hair the day before surgery. You may need to wash your body below your neck with a special soap. Scrub your chest 2 or 3 times with this soap. You also may be asked to take an antibiotic to prevent infection.
On the day of the surgery:
You may be asked not to drink or eat anything after midnight the night before your surgery. This includes using chewing gum and mints. Rinse your mouth with water if it feels dry. Be careful not to swallow.
Take the medicines your doctor told you to take with a small sip of water.
Your doctor or nurse will tell you when to arrive at the hospital.
After the Procedure
Expect to spend 3 - 5 days in the hospital after surgery. You will wake up in the intensive care unit (ICU) and recover there for 1 or 2 days. Nurses will closely watch monitors that display your vital signs (pulse, temperature, and breathing).
Two to three tubes will be in your chest to drain fluid from around your heart. They are usually removed 1 - 3 days after surgery. You may have a catheter (flexible tube) in your bladder to drain urine. You may also have intravenous (IV) lines to get fluids.
You will go from the ICU to a regular hospital room. Your nurses and doctors will monitor your heart and vital signs until you are ready to go home. You will receive pain medicine for pain in your chest.
Your nurse will help start activity slowly. You may begin a program to make your heart and body stronger.
A pacemaker may be placed in your heart if your heart rate becomes too slow after surgery. This may be temporary or permanent.
Mechanical heart valves do not fail often. However, blood clots can develop on them. If a blood clot forms, you may have a stroke. Bleeding can occur, but this is rare.
Biological valves have a lower risk of blood clots but tend to fail over time.
The results of mitral valve repair are excellent. For best results, choose to have surgery at a center that does many of these procedures. Minimally invasive heart valve surgery has improved greatly in recent years. These techniques are safe for most patients, and can reduce recovery time and pain.
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Matthew M. Cooper, MD, FACS, Medical Director, Cardiovascular Surgery, HealthEast Care System, St. Paul, MN. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.