Heart valve disease is a very treatable condition if patients suffering from symptoms such as breathlessness, tight chest and dizziness are diagnosed early. So it is important that if you have any of the symptoms or are over 65 years, you ask your GP for a quick stethoscope check. With treatment, people can return to a good quality of life with their friends and family.
Treatment for heart valve disease varies according to how severe the disease, but ultimately the effective ways of overcoming the disease are valve repair or replacement. Great progress has been made recently in less invasive procedures.
A diseased valve can either be repaired or replaced by a surgical procedure which has been proven to be very successful over many decades. More recently, a less invasive procedure called TAVI has become available for those who are considered to be at too high-risk for surgery. Your doctor will be able to advise which is the most appropriate in your case.
Surgical Valve Repair and Replacement
Heart valve surgery has proven to be a very successful method of valve repair or replacement for more than 50 years. The diseased valve may be repaired using a ring to support the damaged valve. This method is more often used for the mitral or tricuspid valves.
Alternatively, the entire valve may be removed and replaced. This procedure can last a few hours. Patients usually remain in hospital for a few weeks and recovery can take around three months. The replacement valve can be either mechanical or made of animal tissue.
There are pros and cons of each type depending on your age and lifestyle. You should discuss with your physicians which valve is most appropriate for you.
Transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI)
Transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI) is a less invasive approach which allows the replacement aortic valve to be inserted via a catheter usually through a small incision in the groin. The valve is positioned in place either through a balloon-inflation or self-expanding method.
TAVI is suitable for patients who are considered inoperable or at higher risk for valve surgery.
The procedure typically lasts up to one hour, and patients are up and walking 24 - 48 hours after the procedure. The typical hospital stay is 3 to 5 days. Because the replacement valve is placed using minimally invasive techniques, patients usually experience a much more rapid recovery than from surgical valve replacement.
Minimally Invasive Valve Disease Surgery
Another less invasive approach is minimally invasive surgery. With minimally invasive valve disease surgery, the heart is accessed through a small incision on the right side of the chest which can be as small as five centimetres long. The surgeon then inserts a high-definition camera that will allow them the see the heart and using specialised tools they can then repair or replace the damaged valve.
Minimally invasive surgery involves a much shorter stay in hospital versus the traditional surgical treatment meaning the patient can expect a stay of only four to five days. The surgery also involves reduced discomfort, lower risk of infection and less scarring post procedure due to the small access points and recovery is much quicker as there are less life limitations involved post surgery.
While it is recommended that more complex valve repairs or those with co-morbidities such as previous lung surgery or radiotherapy or patients with circulation problems may be best receiving a more traditional sternectomy surgery, most mitral and aortic valve repairs can be done using the minimally invasive technique. Your surgeon will be the best person to decide the appropriate option for you.
For further information on heart valve disease, please see our Heart valve disease fact sheet here.