Options and Considerations for Heart Valve Surgery

Is it possible to treat valve diseases with medications alone?

Most valve conditions can't be treated with medication alone. However, sometimes the problem isn’t severe enough to require surgical repair or valve replacement, but it’s bothersome enough to cause symptoms or risks. In these cases, a condition might be effectively managed for a while with medication.

Medications may be prescribed to:

  1. Reduce unpleasant symptoms from milder forms of the disorder.
  2. Maintain heart rhythm if a related arrhythmia is present.
  3. Lower the patient’s risk for clotting and stroke.

Heart valve disease is usually progressive. The outlook for those who receive no treatment can be poor. But many who do receive treatment go on to live very full and healthy lives, especially when their cardiovascular risks are otherwise low.

What happens if I don’t treat my condition or ignore recommendations?

Valve disease isn’t a condition that can be ignored. You may feel fine and not notice any problems for years. But once you begin to experience symptoms such as angina (chest pain), syncope (fainting or sudden loss of consciousness) and dyspnea (breathing difficulty or discomfort), life expectancy and quality of life can decline. Once valve disease such as aortic stenosis becomes severe, without treatment only half of people live two years and only 20% live five years.

Evidence is also clear that with proper treatment, most people enjoy an improvement in health and quality of life.  

What are the risks associated with valve disease treatment?

As with all surgeries, there are risks. Because every patient is different, your doctor and your health care team will discuss your treatment options and recommend the best option for you.

People who have damaged, repaired or replaced heart valves are at increased risk for developing an infection of the valve (infective endocarditis).

Is it true that dental work can increase risks for people with heart valve problems?

It depends. The American Heart Association does not recommend antibiotics before dental procedures, except for patients at the highest risk of endocarditis. If a person has had heart valve surgery, but has not had a heart valve replaced, the cardiologist or surgeon will decide if antibiotics are needed. Read more about the antibiotic prophylaxis guidelines for infective endocarditis.

Pre-surgery Checklist (PDF) | Pre-surgery Checklist Spanish (PDF) 
Recovery Milestones Checklist (PDF) | Recovery Milestones Checklist Spanish (PDF)