“Can Heart Valves Be Repaired?” Asks Linda
I was never a candidate for heart valve repair. By the time, my bicuspid valve was diagnosed with severe stenosis, both my first- and second-opinion cardiologists suggested an aortic valve transplant.
Still, every once in a while I get a question from a patient about this topic. Recently, Linda asked me, “Can heart valves be repaired or are they always replaced?” and “Are there different types of heart valve repair?”
The answer to Linda’s first question is “yes” – a diseased heart valve can be repaired. In fact, some recent studies suggest that heart valve repair may provide a better long-term solution than heart valve replacement. As for the answer to Linda’s second question, there are different kinds of heart valve repair. According to the Texas Heart Institute, here are the different types of valve repair:
- Commissurotomy, which is used for narrowed valves, where the leaflets are thickened and perhaps stuck together. The surgeon opens the valve by cutting the points where the leaflets meet.
- Valvuloplasty, which strengthens the leaflets to provide more support and to let the valve close tightly. This support comes from a ring-like device that surgeons attach around the outside of the valve opening.
- Reshaping, where the surgeon cuts out a section of a leaflet. Once the leaflet is sewn back together, the valve can close properly.
- Decalcification, which removes calcium buildup from the leaflets. Once the calcium is removed, the leaflets can close properly.
- Repair of structural support, which replaces or shortens the cords that give the valves support (these cords are called the chordae tendineae and the papillary muscles). When the cords are the right length, the valve can close properly.
- Patching, where the surgeon covers holes or tears in the leaflets with a tissue patch.
I hope that helps explain that heart valves can be repaired through a number of different approaches.
Keep on tickin!
Adam Pick is a patient, author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery and the founder of HeartValveSurgery.com.