Heart valve repair is a surgical procedure used to correct a malfunctioning heart valve. Repair usually involves separating the valve leaflets (the one-way "doors" of the heart valve which open and close to pump blood through the heart) or forcing them open with a balloon catheter, a technique known as balloon valvuloplasty.
To correct damage to the mitral, aortic, pulmonary, or tricuspid heart valves caused by a systemic infection, endocarditis, rheumatic heart disease, a congenital heart defect, or mitral and/or aortic valve disease. Damaged valves may not open properly (stenosis) or they may not close adequately (valve regurgitation, insufficiency, or incompetence).
Patients who have a diseased heart valve that is badly scarred or calcified may be better candidates for valve replacement surgery.
Heart valve repair is performed in a hospital setting by a cardiac surgeon. During valve repair surgery, the patient's heart is stopped, and his/her blood is circulated outside of the body through an extracorporeal bypass circuit, also called heart-lung machine or just "the pump." The extracorporeal circuit consists of tubing and medical devices that take over the function of the patient's heart and lungs during the procedure. As blood passes through the circuit, carbon dioxide is removed from the bloodstream and replaced with oxygen. The oxygenated blood is then returned to the body. Other components may also be added to the circuit to filter fluids from the blood or concentrate red blood cells.
In cases of valve disease where the leaflets have become fused together, a procedure known as a valvulotomy is performed. In valvulotomy, the leaflets of the valves are surgically separated, or partially resected, with an incision to increase the size of the valve opening. The surgeon may also make adjustments to the chordae, the cord-like tissue that connects the valve leaflets to the ventricle muscles, to improve valve function.
Another valve repair technique, balloon valvuloplasty, is used in patients with pulmonary, aortic, and mitral valve stenosis to force open the valve. Valvuloplasty is similar to a cardiac angioplasty procedure in that it involves the placement of a balloon-tipped catheter into the heart. Once inserted into the valve, the balloon is inflated and the valve dilates, or opens. Valvuloplasty does not require a bypass circuit.
Paula Anne Ford-Martin, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,