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Aortic valve replacement

3-minute read

The aortic valve is one of four valves in the heart that work together to keep blood flowing in the right direction. If the aortic valve stops working properly, it may need to be replaced.

Why is the procedure performed?

The aortic valve must open fully and close fully with each heartbeat so the heart can pump enough blood around the body.

If either function is affected, the heart must work much harder to try and deliver enough blood to the body and can become overworked.

Signs your aortic valve is not working properly include if you are short of breath, tired or notice a build-up of fluid in the body.

Valves may be faulty at birth, or become damaged due to illness. The heart valves are assessed by an ultrasound of the heart structure called and echocardiogram (sometimes called an ‘echo’).

How to prepare for the procedure

You will need to have some tests that give information about your heart. They include a blood test, chest x-ray and an electrocardiogram (ECG) to test the electrical properties of your heart.

Your doctor or hospital staff will give you instructions on how to prepare for the surgery.

If you are a smoker, it’s a good idea to quit long before the procedure to decrease the risks.

What happens during the procedure

The standard procedure is done under a general anaesthetic, so you will be completely unconscious.

The surgeon will cut through your breastbone to reach your heart and a machine will take over the working of your heart and lungs during surgery.

The faulty valve will be replaced with a new valve, either made of human or animal tissue (called a biological valve) or of metal (called a mechanical valve). During the surgery you may need a blood transfusion.

Newer techniques involve smaller cuts or no cuts to the chest wall. Your doctor will be able to discuss the risks and benefits of each procedure with you.

What to expect after the procedure

You will be taken to the intensive care unit for monitoring, then to a ward until you are ready to leave hospital.

Full recovery from aortic valve replacement can take from several weeks to months, during which you may have pain and tiredness.  

You will need to take anti-clotting medication for life if you receive a mechanical valve, or for a few months after receiving a biological valve.

What can go wrong?

Possible risks include:

  • bleeding
  • infection
  • poor healing of the wound
  • changes to your heart rhythm
  • damage to your heart
  • problems with your kidneys or lungs, particularly if you have a pre-existing condition

More information

About aortic valve replacement

Talk to your doctor if you have questions about aortic valve replacement.

About surgical procedures

Visit the healthdirect surgical procedures page to learn more about surgical procedures in general, with information including:

Last reviewed: December 2018

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