The main job of your heart is to pump oxygen-rich blood throughout your body. To do this, it pumps 60-90 times per minute, for a total of more than 42 million heartbeats per year. The heart has four chambers:
- atria - two upper receiving chambers
- ventricles - two lower pumping chambers
Because the ventricles do the hard work of pumping blood through the body, they are larger than the atria. Heart valves direct the flow of blood between the chambers of the heart. These valves are like one-way doors, allowing the blood to flow forward to the next chamber.
Often your surgeon can repair damage to your valve. However, if this is not possible, your surgeon can replace the valve to maximize your well being.
One of the Most Common Heart Surgeries
Since the first valve replacement surgery in 1962, there have been many advances in prosthetic valve design, as well as in surgical techniques. Today, valve replacement is one of the most common heart surgeries performed at major heart centers throughout the country.
Biological vs. Mechanical Valves
Many different types of prosthetic valves are now available. These are either biological or mechanical:
- Biological valves are made from the tissue of a cow or pig or cadaver (homograft).
- Mechanical valves are made of titanium and pyrolytic carbon. The outside of the valve is surrounded by a white polyester cuff, which is used to attach the valve to your own heart tissue.
When selecting the appropriate valve for your condition, your physician weighs many complex factors, including:
- disease process
- heart size
- your ability and willingness to take certain medicines.
For example, tissue replacement valves typically require you to take aspirin, an anticoagulant, which helps prevent blood clotting. Mechanical valves require you to take a blood thinner called Coumadin.