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Is heart valve surgery right for me?
Depending on the type and severity of your heart valve disease and your age and overall health, surgery can be a great option. At Sharp Memorial Hospital we have a multidisciplinary team of cardiologists, heart surgeons, intensivists, nurses, social workers, rehabilitation therapists and dietitians to tailor a treatment specific to your condition.
Aren't there medications I can take to avoid surgery?
Medications are available to help avoid further damage to heart valves, but they aren't always the best choice. The medicines may help in the beginning stages of valve disease but become less effective as the disease progresses. Often times surgery is most effective when performed before symptoms even begin.
What if I don't choose surgery?
The reality is that most valve disease will progress and eventually require surgery. In the early stages of the disease, you may be able to manage your symptoms with medications, but surgery is the most effective treatment.
How will I feel after surgery?
Sharp Memorial Hospital offers minimally invasive valve surgery options — including da Vinci® robotic-assisted surgery — that require smaller incisions, less downtime and less discomfort after surgery. Even so, it may take you weeks or months to fully recover from surgery. Those in better overall health tend to recover more quickly.
How long will my valve last?
The longevity of your valve repair or replacement will depend on several factors: your health at the time of surgery, the type of surgical treatment you undergo and how well you take care of yourself after the surgery. In a few patients, valve repair does not stop the progression of valve disease and further surgery may be necessary. Mechanical valves rarely wear out, but occasionally they may need to be replaced if a blood clot, infection or a growth of tissue interferes with their function. Biological valves may wear out and need to be replaced, particularly when they are implanted in younger patients.
Are there any risks of major complications from the surgery?
We perform more than a hundred heart valve surgeries each year at Sharp Memorial Hospital, but even in the most experienced hands there are risks involved with any type of surgery. Your surgical risks are related to your age, the presence of other medical conditions and the number of procedures you undergo during a single operation. It's best to ask your doctor about your particular risks before deciding to undergo surgery.
Will I need to take blood thinners (anticoagulant medications) after surgery?
The need for anticoagulant medications after surgery varies from patient to patient. Patients receiving a mechanical heart valve must take anticoagulants for the rest of their lives. Patients receiving biological valves may only need to take anticoagulants for several weeks after surgery, or they may not need to take them at all.
However, other conditions associated with valve disease are also sometimes treated with anticoagulants. These conditions include an enlarged heart, irregular heartbeats, a weakened heart and a history of blood clots. Because anticoagulant medications delay clotting time, patients with bleeding problems, such as ulcers, may need to be especially careful when taking these medications. Moderate to heavy bleeding from any cause also needs to be taken seriously and treated promptly. Also, alcohol consumption and dietary factors can affect how well the medication works. Many patients are required to change their eating habits and may need to follow very restricted diets.
Anticoagulant therapy requires taking a pill once a day without fail — and periodically having a blood test, usually at least once a month. These medications have few, if any, side effects, protect against heart attack and stroke and generally do not disrupt the lives of the patients who take them.
For More Information
To learn more about heart valve surgery at Sharp Memorial Hospital, send us an email and a cardiac specialist will contact you directly. To learn more about valvular disease, visit Heart Valve Diseases in Adult Health.
Find a Heart Valve Surgeon in San Diego
To find a Sharp-affiliated doctor, search for a San Diego heart valve surgeon or call 1-800-82-SHARP (1-800-827-4277), Monday through Friday, 8 am to 6 pm.