Porcine Valves – What is A Porcine Heart Valve Replacement?

I just received an email from Eddie who is preparing for his heart valve replacement surgery. Eddie has mitral valve prolapse and severe mitral regurgitation. Eddie is 67 years old and is considering a tissue valve. Specifically, Eddie is leaning towards a porcine valve (aka a pig valve) and has several questions.

Eddie writes, “Adam – My surgeon has had a lot of success with porcine heart valve transplants. But, I still have questions including… What exactly is a porcine valve? Do you have any pictures or images of porcine valves? Are there any adverse effects of using a porcine valve? Are porcine valves safe? Thanks, Eddie.”

These are critical questions for the valve replacement selection process. That said, I’m going to do my best to answer Eddie’s questions about porcine valves.

Porcine Valve Replacement Manufactured By Edwards Lifesciences

First, let’s see what a porcine valve looks like. While there are several porcine valve manufacturers, above you will find a picture of an Edwards Lifesciences’ mitral valve replacement, known as the Carpentier-Edwards valve. Recently, I toured Edwards manufacturing center and learned how porcine valves are manufactured.

So you know, a porcine valve replacement is actually taken from the heart of a pig. I know that sounds a little odd…. But, porcine valves have been used in heart valve replacement surgery for over 20 years. That makes pig valves a very safe and very credible alternative for patients requiring valve replacement.

As you would imagine companies like Edwards, Medtronic and St. Jude have invested huge amounts of money to enhance the durability and performance of porcine valves over time. In fact, a porcine valve is now estimated to last up to 15 years once it is transplanted in the human heart. Still, most tissue valves, including porcine valves, are not as durable as the mechanical valve replacements which are made substances including titanium, Teflon and steel.

Obviously, this is one of the downsides of porcine valves as porcine valve leaflets tend to calcify and degenerate. This can lead to a collapsed pig valve in the human heart. However, some recent studies are beginning to challenge that adverse effect of pig valves.

Ultimately, reports suggest that since younger patients have a greater calcium metabolism, bioprosthetic tissue valves tend to last best in senior citizens. Once a bioprosthesis is implanted, the valve itself does not require any type of anti-coagulant drugs (Coumadin). The degeneration is simply a gradual process, as it grows with the body. That is why younger patients typically opt for mechanical valve replacements so that re-operations are not required.

I hope that helps explain a little more about porcine valves. If you have any questions, please let me know.

Keep on tickin!

Adam Pick
Written by Adam Pick

Adam Pick is a patient, author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery and the founder of HeartValveSurgery.com.

To learn how Adam has helped millions of people with heart valve disease, watch Adam's video, subscribe to his free newsletter, or visit his Facebook, or Twitter pages.

  • Mark Shearon

    My dad had pig valve “installed” last week, and we have a question I can’t find the answer to: what strain of pig is most commonly used when harvesting valves for human implantation?

  • Vivian Garcia

    Question? My 77 yo mother had a pig valve replacement 1 year on 2/28/08. She was in the hospital in 9/2007 with CHf and now the surgeon is saying that the valve has narrowed and my understanding is that they should last 10 to 12 years. Why does this happen? Manufacture? Surgeon? Why? Tks

  • Suzanne

    Hi

    My mom had a porcine valve in 1999. She is now 74 years old. I see the life expectancy is 10-15 years. She is presently not having any problems. Do they last more than 15 years.

  • Kim

    Hi! I am 32 yrs old and have had 2 valve replacements. My first valve was a pig. my new one is a cow. My surgeon told me that the bovine ( cow valves) have more lifespan then the pigs. My pig lasted for 10 years and my cow is supposed to last 15. Really from my surgeons explanations it is all in how you take care of yourself to make your valve last. BUT over the years the valve can narrow as well it is something we really have no control over. Good Luck to all who have had replacements!! hope your piggys or moo cows last a long time!!

  • Reginald Hughes

    Adam,
    Thanks for posting this valuable information. I have a porcine aortic valve. Are there optimal exercise and diet programs that help make the valve last longer? My wife prepares a green drink for us daily, using raw fruits and vegetables, and we eat organic raw foods daily. We eat very little red meat – mostly fish and poultry. I’m 69 and we walk two miles per day.
    Your advice, please.
    Thanks, Reggie

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