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Aortic Valve Replacement

Your heart has four valves that are responsible for helping blood flow through the heart and into the body. Sometimes the heart valves do not work properly. This can occur for a number of reasons including:

  • a bacterial infection of the valve
  • rheumatic fever
  • degeneration over time (typically after the age of 65)
  • heart attack
  • hypertension
  • birth abnormalities

These issues can cause valve disease, which results in stenosis or regurgitation. With stenosis, the valve is narrowed, restricting blood flow. Regurgitation results when the valve does not work properly and allows blood to leak backward. Both of these problems force the heart to work harder than it should to pump blood, causing low blood pressure, fainting, shortness of breath and fatigue.

Depending on your symptoms and the results of tests like an echocardiogram, your doctors may recommend valve replacement to treat your condition.

What to expect

Valve replacement is open heart surgery during which your valve is removed and replaced. There are two different approaches to surgery that may be performed, depending on your condition and symptoms.

  • Minimally invasive - Smaller incisions are used and surgery is endoscopic (performed through a tube with a camera at the end). 
  • Traditional surgery - The sternum is divided and the heart is exposed. A heart-lung machine is used to oxygenate and pump blood during the procedure.

There are also two types of valves that may be used as replacements: mechanical and biological.

  • Mechanical valves are made from metals and other materials. They are highly durable, but there is a risk that they can cause blood clots. If you are given a mechanical valve, you will be required to take blood thinners for the rest of your life.
  • Biological valves are made from human or animal tissue. These valves are not as durable as mechanical ones, but are not as likely to cause blood clots.

After the surgery is completed, you can expect to be in the hospital for about a five days. You will likely be able to return to work after about four weeks and you can drive after two weeks.


The professional, caring staff at REX Cardiac Surgical Specialists is here to help ease you safely through your mitral valve repair surgery. People who choose UNC REX Healthcare are consistently satisfied with the high-quality care we provide every patient.

When undergoing heart surgery, you want to know that your specialists are not only knowledgeable, but are well versed in the most up-to-date techniques. UNC REX's experienced cardiac surgeons  are constantly working on the latest changes and innovations in the heart care field.

At UNC REX Healthcare, you can trust that you will be taken care of by an entire team of specialists including cardiologists as well as vascular and thoracic surgeons. UNC REX Healthcare provides the perfect combination of compassion, expertise and exceptional clinical outcomes.

Patient Resources

For more information on aortic valve replacement, visit these Web sites: The Society of Thoracic Surgeons and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

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