Heart Valve Replacement What it’s for 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. There are two main problems that can affect heart valves: Narrowing or leaking. 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 it’s done 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: Human heart valves provide low risk of infection and do not require the use of blood thinners. Valve replacement with a human heart valve requires a more complex surgical procedure than other valve replacements. Also, since there is a short supply of donor heart valves, patients must be willing to be put on a waiting list. 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. Risks 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 Infection Reaction to anesthesia Heart attack Irregular heartbeat Stroke Kidney failure Death Technology and expertise at URMC The University of Rochester Medical Center provides the most advanced valve replacement surgeries in our region. We also provide the widest range of valve replacement options for our patients. Our Valve Center regularly handles the most complex cases in the region with excellent outcomes. The Ross Procedure is highly effective for children and adults under the age of 35. The patient’s own pulmonary valve is used to replace the aortic valve. The pulmonary valve is then replaced with the same valve from a human donor. This valve replacement lasts longer than prosthetic valves and does not require blood thinners. Homograft replacement is valve replacement with donated human aortic valves. The use of human valves decreases the risk of infection. Mitral valve replacement surgery is performed at URMC with mechanical heart valves, tissue valves and donated human heart valves. Transcatheter Aortic Valve Implantation (TAVI) is performed at URMC. It is a rapid non-invasive approach to treat severe valve disease. View our Heart Surgery Video. Who to contact For more information on heart valve replacement at URMC, contact us at (585)275-2475. View this topic in our Health Encyclopedia.