Understanding Heart Valve Replacement
If you have heart valve disease and your heart valve cannot be repaired, you doctor may recommend heart valve replacement. The first clinical replacement heart valve surgery took place in 1952. Advances in technology, improved valve design and newer surgical techniques make heart valve replacement a common procedure at most major hospitals today.
With heart valve replacement, your surgeon will remove your heart valve and implant an artificial (prosthetic) valve in its place. There are two types of prosthetic valves used for replacement: tissue heart valves and mechanical heart valves. Both are designed to mimic the function of a natural, healthy heart valve. A valve’s hemodynamic performance (“hemodynamic” is a term doctors use to describe the flow of blood through the valve) is important and affects your quality of life immediately following your heart valve implant and throughout your lifetime.
Your surgeon will decide to implant either a tissue valve or a mechanical valve based on several factors, including your:
- Health conditions (in addition to your heart issues)
- Life expectancy and your age
Several studies have shown that heart valve recipients report the same quality of life whether they receive a replacement mechanical or tissue valve.1-4
Tissue heart valves
Tissue heart valves are made from animal or human tissues. The tissue typically comes from a porcine (pig) heart valve or bovine (cow) cardiac tissue. Sometimes it may be a homograft or allograft, which is a heart valve obtained from a human donor. Once the tissue is removed from the animal or human donor, it is chemically treated to preserve the tissue and prevent immunologic reactions after it is placed in a patient.
Tissue valves may not last as long as mechanical heart valves. However, they do not require the lifetime use of blood thinner medication. Learn more about tissue heart valves and getting treatment.
Mechanical heart valves
A mechanical valve is carefully designed to mimic a natural heart valve. Like your own natural heart valve, it opens and closes with each heartbeat, permitting proper blood flow through the heart.
Mechanical valves are designed to last a lifetime, but having one requires that you take anticoagulation medication (blood thinner). If you receive a mechanical heart valve, you will need to take anticoagulation medication daily and your medical team will monitor you to ensure the dosage is appropriate for you.
More than two million St. Jude Medical™ mechanical valves have been implanted worldwide, making them the most widely used and well-studied valves available. Learn more about mechanical heart valves and getting treatment.