Heart Valve Replacement
What Is It?
Sometimes a natural heart valve that is not working properly needs to be replaced surgically with a prosthetic valve. A prosthetic valve is a synthetic or tissue substitute for the natural valve. It is designed to mimic the natural valve's normal opening and closing motions. A prosthetic valve can replace any of the three heart valves – aortic, pulmonary or tricuspid. Prosthetic heart valves are divided into two basic categories: synthetic mechanical valves and biological valves made of human or animal tissue.
Several different forms of mechanical valves have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in hospitals in the United States. The different types vary in the mechanisms they use to open and close the valves.
In general, mechanical valves tend to last longer than biological valves, but they also carry a greater long-term risk of thromboembolism, which is a floating blood clot that can travel through the circulation, causing stroke and other problems. To help prevent thromboembolism, people who receive mechanical heart valves must take anticoagulant medications (anticlotting drugs) for the rest of their lives. However, this long-term use of anticoagulants also increases the risk of bleeding problems.