Aortic valve replacement surgery is for the treatment of narrowing (stenosis) or leakage (regurgitation) of the aortic valve. During the surgery, the patient’s aortic valve is replaced with either a mechanical valve or a biological valve. Biological valves are made of tissue from a human cadaver donor, pig (porcine) valve tissue, or cow (bovine) valve tissue. Your surgeon will discuss the benefits and risks of each before working with you to choose the type of valve that’s best for you.
Mechanical valves are created from man-made materials, such as carbon, and are very durable. Because there is a tendency for blood to clot on mechanical valves, patients with mechanical valve replacements must take anticoagulant medication (sometimes called "blood thinners") for the rest of their lives. This medication prevents blood clots from forming on or around the valve.
Tissue valves perform extremely well, and don’t require the patient to take anticoagulants. Tissue valves are durable, but since they typically last from 15 to 20 years, some patients need to have additional valve replacement procedures later in life.
One of the newest aortic valve replacement procedures is transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR). This is a new option for patients with severe aortic stenosis (narrowing of the aorta) who are not ideal candidates for traditional open heart surgery. The surgeon makes a small incision in the upper leg and inserts a catheter, outfitted with a deflated balloon, into the femoral artery. The catheter is guided up into the chambers of the heart, where a small balloon at the tip of the catheter is inflated to open up the diseased aortic valve. Read more about TAVR.
Depending on the condition, surgeons may choose to preserve and repair the patient’s aortic valve. Surgical heart valve repair includes separating fused valve flaps, removing or reshaping tissue so the valve can close more tightly, and adding tissue to patch holes or tears or to increase the support at the base of the valve.