If the mitral valve becomes diseased or damaged, it may be surgically repaired to restore function. Mitral valves also may be replaced with an artificial or natural valve. However, research has shown that there are many advantages of surgically repairing, rather than replacing, a mitral valve. In certain cases, however, the valve may be so seriously damaged that valve replacement is recommended.
Your surgeon will discuss both treatment options with you. The decision regarding whether to have valve repair or replacement depends on a number of factors, including your age, overall health, cause of valve damage and expected benefits of surgery.
Mitral valve repair is an open heart procedure performed by a cardiothoracic surgeon, a doctor who specializes in heart and lung conditions.
The two most common surgical mitral valve repairs include:
Surgically repairing, rather than replacing a valve spares the surrounding structures that attach the valve to the heart, which are important for maintaining the heart's shape and function. Studies have shown that removing those structures during valve replacement may not affect heart function immediately, but 10 years after surgery, the heart is much weaker.
In addition, inserting artificial valves into the heart may cause infections or complications, such as blood clotting. Patients who have valve repair, rather than valve replacement, do not need to take the blood thinner Coumadin, and also have a quicker recovery time, due in part to less invasive surgical techniques.
UCSF heart surgeons also specialize in early mitral valve repair before the heart is severely damaged by the faulty valve. Recent research suggests that earlier surgical intervention, particularly if repair is possible, may prevent irreversible damage to the heart. Evidence shows that patients who have their valve repaired early on have greatly improved short- and long-term results. And because the heart's tissue is still healthy at the time of repair, recovery time is much quicker.
The push to make mitral valve repairs early is only one of several important changes that have swept the field in recent decades. One of the most important procedural differences between today and years past is that now the existing valve is often repaired, rather than replaced with an artificial or human valve.
Learn more about early mitral valve repair.
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.