The goal of heart valve surgery is to cure the problem or lengthen life by restoring the function of your heart valves, whether they are diseased or damaged.
Repair or Replace?
When possible, it's generally best to repair a valve and preserve a person’s own tissue in the heart. However, when the tissue is too damaged, a replacement valve may be used from another human heart, an animal or a manufactured mechanical valve.
Repair Procedure: Balloon Valvuloplasty
View an animation of valvuloplasty
For many, valve tightness can be relieved during a procedure called balloon valvuloplasty. It is done as part of a cardiac catheterization, which is less invasive than general surgery or open heart surgery.
In a balloon valvuloplasty, a small catheter holding an expandable balloon is threaded into the heart and placed into the tightened valve. Next, the balloon is expanded to stretch open the valve and separate the leaflets.
In some cases the valve cannot be successfully treated by balloon valvuloplasty, and a different surgical treatment is needed to open the valve and allow better blood flow.
Treatment results can vary depending on the experience and training of your medical care team; hospitals can become very proficient at managing care around certain conditions, too. When a valve problem is complex, it is very important to choose an experienced team to do the repair.
How do I find a doctor experienced in treating valve disease?
Treatment for heart valve problems may require you to visit a highly specialized cardiologist or surgeon. Many times family practitioners or general cardiologists – who are qualified to treat a variety of heart problems – may feel more comfortable referring valve disease patients to a “specialist” who focuses almost exclusively on heart valve problems and repair.
Print our handy pre-surgery checklist: Facing and Recovering from Major Surgery
This checklist is also available in Spanish.
Understanding your heart valve problem: Which solution may be right for you?
Walk through a step-by-step interactive guide explaining your valve issue and treatment options with helpful videos, text summaries and links along the way.
Additional resources from Adam Pick's blog:
- Surgeon Q&A: Taking Asymmetric Information Out of the Surgical Process with Dr. John Byrne
- Undergoing Heart Valve Surgery: 6 Steps to Prepare for Recovery
This content was last reviewed May 2016.