As you go into the finer details, you appreciate the human body more and more. Each and every organ is so minutely detailed and works with such precision to sustain and nourish the life that we have been given. Take the heart for example. It is such an amazing example of the clockwork precision that makes life tick.
If you get into the structure of the heart, at a very simplistic level, it is made of four chambers – the left and right atria (top chambers) and the left and right ventricles (bottom chambers). The flow of deoxygenated blood through these to the lungs and the supply of oxygenated blood from the lungs to the body via the chambers of the heart is actually all there is to sustenance of a life. But if you look a little closely, you start seeing the details.
Each of these chambers are interconnected by valves and the flow of blood is regulated by these valves. With that background, it’s easy to appreciate the importance of these valves. But what if something goes wrong with these valves? There can be blood regurgitation (leaky valve) or valve stenosis (hardening of the valve) and in both cases, it is the blood flow that is impacted with many consequences.
The doctors will try to repair the problems as far as possible since heart valve replacement is not a completely risk free procedure. It is a highly involved process and can last for anywhere between 3 to 6 hours, depending on the experience of your doctors. In case it is unavoidable to go for heart valve replacement surgery, it is advisable to select a surgeon specialized in heart valve replacement and having a good experience in the same. Your own doctor or general cardiologist may be helpful in your quest for a heart valve replacement surgeon.
Let us look at the details of how, what and when of the heart valve surgery. There are four different valves present in the human heart
The valve replacement surgery for Aortic Valve is called Aortic Valve Replacement Surgery and that for the mitral valve is called Mitral Valve Replacement Surgery. This is typically an open heart procedure, meaning the doctor needs to make an incision in your chest, through the breastbone so as to reach your heart. With the advancement of medical technology, this procedure can now be carried out using minimally invasive heart valve surgery in which, the doctors make multiple smaller incision to reach the heart through the ribs.
Like any other medical procedure, you need to prepare yourself for Heart Valve Replacement Surgery. In this case, you may require a slightly longer hospital stay. Your doctor will take you through the details of the procedure. Ensure to ask as many questions as you want to clarify your doubts. Inform your doctor about your existing medical conditions like diabetes, other heart ailments, kidney related problems, allergies, if you are taking any blood thinning medicine and whether you may be pregnant. Also, tell your doctor about your tobacco and alcohol consumption habits. The more information you share, the more helpful it will be for your doctor to define your line of treatment.
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Before your surgery, your doctor will suggest changes in your existing medication so as to reduce their impact on your surgery and subsequent recovery. The doctor will ask you not to eat or drink anything at least 8 hours prior to your mitral valve repair surgery.
Before starting the surgery, your heart rate and other parameters will be monitored. Then, you will be administered general anaesthesia. You will be put on a ventilator that will help you to breathe during the heart valve replacement surgery.
The cardiac surgeon will then make an incision to reach your heart. Your heart will be momentarily stopped after connecting you to a heart lung bypass machine, so that the blood flow in your body is maintained. He will then replace the diseased valve, either with a valve made from tissues of another living being or a mechanical valve as appropriate. Once replaced, the doctor will check whether the valves are functioning correctly. Then, the incision will be closed and you will be taken to Intensive Care Unit, where you will be kept under observation. You may have to spend several days in the hospital after you have moved out of the ICU.
Adhere to the follow up routine or cardiac rehabilitation suggested by your doctor very strictly, as that can help in faster recovery and better results. If you have undergone minimally invasive heart valve replacement surgery, the recovery period is shorter and less painful. You should resume your daily activities like working and driving only after consulting with your doctor.