Heart defects are problems with the structure of the heart or its arteries. You may be born with defects, called congenital, or heart issues may arise during your lifetime.
Defect repair surgery plays a crucial role in eliminating symptoms associated with heart disease when watchful waiting and drug therapy fail or aren’t viable options.
Heart valve surgery is required when one or more of your valves becomes stiff and unable to open fully or leaks, causing blood to travel backwards in the heart. Valve repair may be performed as a traditional surgery in which a large incision is made in the middle of your breastbone, or as a minimally invasive procedure using smaller incisions.
Minimally invasive valve repair reduces the risk of infection and bleeding and can speed up your recovery time. According to the Cleveland Clinic, valve repair is a better choice than valve replacement because it decreases your need for blood thinning medications throughout your life and lowers your risk of infection.
Valve defects that can be repaired surgically include:
- weakness: eliminating floppy valve leaflets through a triangular resection makes the valve stronger
- rigidity: removing calcium deposits or separating fused valve leaflets in a procedure called a commissurotomy, which allows the valves to return to their normal, flexible state
- abnormally wide annulus: inserting a support to tighten the base of the valve strengthens the valve
- torn leaflets: patching the leaflets eliminates the risk of leaky valves
Heart valves that have previously been repaired and continue to malfunction may require replacement. Your doctor will discuss your options for valve replacement prior to surgery.
A septal defect is an abnormality in the septum, the divider between the two side-by-side chambers of the heart. Upper defects are called ?atrial septal defects (ASD) and generally consist of holes that allow deoxygenated blood (moving away from the heart) and oxygen-rich blood (coming into the heart) to commingle. Prolonged periods of this type of exposure can lead to a condition called cyanosis, whose symptoms include extreme fatigue and congestive heart failure.
Openings between the lower chambers of the heart are known as ventricular septal defects (VSD). Both types of problems can be surgically closed or patched through minimally invasive techniques with the assistance of robotic devices. The hole in the septum is either sewn back together or repaired using tissue that is harvested from other areas of your body.
A procedure called a mini ASD or VSD repair is a minimally invasive option that’s performed through one- to three-inch incisions between your ribs. Although placement on a heart-lung device is required, the smaller incision size reduces your risk of infection and blood loss and minimizes your post-operative pain.
Stenosis is a term to describe a narrowing and usually refers to the heart’s valve in heart disease. A narrowing of the heart’s valves decreases the amount of blood that can reach the heart. Reduction of blood flow can cause a variety of symptoms, such as:
- chest pain
- heart murmur or palpitations
- fainting episodes
- breathing difficulties
Mitral or pulmonary stenosis—stenosis of either the mitral or pulmonary valves—is treated through a catheterization procedure called a balloon valvotomy. A thin, flexible tube is inserted into a vein in your groin area and is threaded up to your heart. Once the catheter reaches the affected area, a tiny balloon is inflated to widen the narrow space that causes your symptoms. Upon widening the valve opening, the balloon is deflated and the catheter is removed.
Cardiac catheterization recovery time is short and you may go home in a matter of hours. Your condition will be monitored frequently to ensure you’re free of infection and excessive bleeding. Follow-up ?appointments with your cardiologist are important no matter what type of heart defect repair surgery you have.
Taking care of yourself in the long term—practicing weight management, eating a nutritious diet, and getting daily exercise—ensures your heart health and well-being. Referral to a cardiac rehab may be required to help you learn how to adapt to your new lifestyle.