What is aortic valve disease?
When the aortic valve is damaged it can either obstruct the flow of blood out of the heart by narrowing (aortic stenosis), or it allows for blood to flow back into the heart. These conditions manifest through chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, even fainting. If left untreated, aortic valve disease can lead to life-threatening situations such as heart failure.
To diagnose the aortic valve disease, the consultant may need to perform some of the following tests:
By having the operation you relieve the symptoms of breathlessness and chest pain and increase your energy levels. The operation also improves your life expectancy.
Drug treatments such as diuretics, ACE-inhibitors and digoxin are the main alternatives to surgery.
What happens during the aortic valve replacement surgery?
This is a major operation and will be recommended only if you are fit for it. It’s performed under general anaesthetic and it usually takes about two hours.
Your surgeon will make a cut down the front of your chest, through the breastbone.
Your heart will be connected to a heart-lung (bypass) machine, and then you would get medication that will stop your heart. The aorta will be clamped to allow the surgeon to operate without any blood pumping through. The two main types of replacement valve are mechanical or tissue valves- you will choose the right replacement for you before the surgery, on the consultant’s advice.
After the aorta is opened, the surgeon will replace the damaged valve and will restart your heart with controlled electric shocks, before taking you off the bypass machine. The surgeon will close back your chest with dissolvable stitches.
What are the risks?
The risks vary according to your age, overall age and the degree of the valve disease. Some of the potential complications that may appear are:
- Infections: wound infection, lung infections, bladder infections or heart valve infections (endocarditis)
- Excessive bleeding
- Blood clots
- Irregular heartbeat
- Kidney problems
- Heart attack
There is also a possibility of the new valve to wear out, although this is more likely in patients who opted for the biological valve replacement.
How soon will I recover?
The recovery period will depend on other factors such as your overall health and age. The wound takes about six to eight weeks to heal.
During the first 24 hours after the operation you will be moved to a cardiac intensive care unit, where you will be closely monitored. Pain relief medication will be administered once the anaesthetic wears off. After that, you will be moved to the ward, where the care team will be look after your recovery.
You should be able to go home after seven to ten days.
Your surgeon, physiotherapist and occupational therapist will tell you when you can return to normal activities. Regular exercise should help you to return to normal activities as soon as possible. Before you start exercising, you should ask a member of the healthcare team or your GP for advice. Most people make a good recovery, with no more breathlessness or chest pain.
How to pay for your procedure
Aortic valve replacement costs are covered by most medical insurance policies, but please check with your insurer first. If you are paying for your own treatment the cost of the operation will be explained and confirmed in writing when you book the operation. Ask the hospital for a quote beforehand, and ensure that this includes the surgeon’s fee, the anaesthetist’s fee and the hospital charge for your procedure.