Kenneth Shelton, MD, is a critical care physician and cardiothoracic anesthesiologist in the Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and the medical director of the Mass General Corrigan Minehan Heart Center Intensive Care Unit.
Corrigan Minehan Heart Center
Valve Replacement Surgery
Explore This Procedure
Mechanical Valve Replacement
Surgeons at the Massachusetts General Hospital Corrigan Minehan Heart Center are experienced in performing mechanical valve replacement procedures. Mechanical valves are often inserted to treat malfunctioning valves in the heart. A durable solution, mechanical valves are typically made out of metal or carbon and perform the same function as a healthy, normal valve.
An advantage of mechanical valves is that they are quite durable, and patients typically do not need follow-up surgeries. However, patients who have a mechanical valve replacement need to take blood-thinning medications to prevent a clot from forming on the replaced valve.
Biological Valve Replacement
Physicians at the Corrigan Minehan Heart Center also perform biological valve replacement surgeries. These valves are made of human or animal tissues as well as artificial parts for support. For the most part, biological valves are either made of cow, pig or human tissues. Depending on the patient and his or her condition, physicians discuss and determine the appropriate valve type for replacement.
The advantage of a biological valve replacement is that patients typically do not need lifelong use of blood-thinning medications. However, valves are less durable and patients, especially younger patients, may need follow-up surgeries.
Understanding the Valves
With current valve substitutes there is a trade-off between durability and the need for blood-thinning medications. Mechanical valves are the most durable type of valve replacement, but patients need lifelong blood-thinning medications. Natural valves, animal-tissue valves and valve repairs provide greater freedom from lifelong use of blood-thinner medications, but are less durable solutions. Though some patients may be better off with a mechanical valve, tissue valves seem to perform very well, and may be the best option.
Patients need to consult their physicians for a thorough evaluation prior to heart valve surgery. The choice and timing of the appropriate procedure can be a complex decision and must be individualized.
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