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 - Northwestern Memorial Hospital - Chicago

Heart Valve Surgery

It is a priority among the cardiologists and cardiac surgeons at the Center for Heart Valve Disease to repair rather than replace heart valves whenever possible to preserve a patient's own heart valve so that blood thinning (anticoagulation) medications are not required.

Valve Repair

Heart surgeons at Northwestern repair your own native valve when possible. Valve repair often provides the best long-term outcome of restoring proper valve function. The most common reason for valve repair is a regurgitant, or "leaking," valve. During surgery, the valve is restored to normal function using a combination of repair techniques including a prosthetic ring which provides added support to the repaired valve.

Valve Replacement

If the heart valve is too damaged to repair, heart valve replacement is needed. During surgery, the diseased valve is removed and replaced with either a tissue (bioprosthetic) valve or mechanical valve.

Mechanical valves are made of special carbon compounds and titanium. The valves are sturdy and designed to last a lifetime. Due to the metal parts, patients need to take blood-thinning medicine known as anticoagulants for the rest of their lives. The anticoagulants prevent blood clots from forming on the metal valve. Routine blood tests are needed to make sure the medicine dose is right for you.

Bioprosthetic valves are made from animal (bovine/cow) or human tissue. Unlike mechanical valves, patients that receive bioprosthetic valves do not have to take anticoagulants. Because these valves are made from natural tissue, bioprosthetic valves do not last as long as mechanical valves. Northwestern surgeons use bioprosthetic valves made from cow tissues because research has shown that these valves are the most durable and last upwards of 15 years in most patients.

The reason to have surgery is to make your life better or longer. There are risks with every surgery, varying with each person and the procedure performed. Your risk depends on your heart function, age and overall health. Your surgeon will answer your questions and discuss in detail:

  • Your surgery options
  • Risks
  • Your specific plan of care

At Northwestern Memorial Hospital, we tailor our approach to make sure patients receive the best operation possible at the lowest risk.


For more information regarding heart valve surgery, please contact the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at 1-866-662-8467 or request a first time appointment online.

Last UpdateJune 28, 2011