Replacing a diseased heart valve

Understanding Heart Valve Replacement

What is it?

There are four valves in your heart. They open to let blood pass through and close to keep blood from flowing in the wrong direction. When heart valves become diseased, they can develop two main problems:

  • Stenosis, or narrowing. This means that a valve does not open wide enough to let sufficient blood pass through.
  • Regurgitation, or leakage. The valve does not close completely, so blood leaks through in the wrong direction.

In many cases, these problems can be repaired through surgery. But if a valve cannot be repaired it may need to be replaced.

Valve replacement surgery can eliminate the symptoms and health risks associated with valve disease.

How is it done?

Traditional Heart Valve Surgery

In heart valve replacement surgery, an incision is made in the chest to expose the heart. This procedure requires general anesthesia and the use of the heart lung machine to supply your body with blood while your heart valve is being repaired.

Your old valve is removed and a new valve is sewn into the location of your native valve. There are three types of replacement valves that may be used to replace a diseased valve:

  • Tissue valves or biologic valves are made from animal or human tissue. They may be combined with artificial materials, too. They are more readily available than human heart valves, and like human heart valves, they don't require blood thinners. Tissue valves generally last about 15 years, not as long as mechanical heart valves.
  • Mechanical heart valves are made completely from man-made materials. They are very reliable and last much longer than tissue valves. Mechanical heart valves require that patients be on blood thinners permanently to prevent a clot from forming on the valve.


The risks of valve surgery, as with all surgeries, are related to the age and relative health of the patient. Following are some of the risks of valve replacement surgery:

  • Bleeding
  • Heart rhythm problems

Less common complications are:

  • Heart attack, if a blood clot breaks loose soon after surgery
  • Infection of the chest wound
  • Kidney failure
  • Stroke
  • Reaction to the anesthesia

Technology and expertise at Lee Health

Lee Health provides the most advanced valve replacement surgeries and treatments using a multidisciplinary approach. Our valve program regularly handles the most complex cases in the region with excellent outcomes.

Our surgeons have extensive experience in minimally-invasive robotic surgery for mitral valve replacement, and the first in the region to perform this valve surgery with robotic assistance. Robotic surgery makes it possible to perform valve surgery through smaller incisions with greater control and accuracy.

A new procedure called transcatheter aortic valve replacement, or TAVR, is providing new hope for patients considered too weak to undergo traditional aortic valve replacement surgery. HealthPark Medical Center became the first hospital in Florida—outside of clinical trials—to offer this procedure to patients who previously had no viable surgical options.

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