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Heart Valve Surgery: Your Questions Answered

Sep. 18, 2019

If you or a loved one needs heart valve surgery, you may be feeling overwhelmed. To put you at ease, Dr. Lucas Duvall, cardiovascular surgeon at Houston Methodist, answers frequently asked questions about the procedure.

Q: What do the valves in the heart do?

A: The heart has four valves responsible for keeping blood moving in a circular pattern through the organ. The aortic and mitral valves are located on the left side, the pulmonary and tricuspid valves on the right. Each valve has “flaps” that work like a gate that closes before the blood can flow backward from where it came.

Q: Why is surgery sometimes needed to repair or replace heart valves?

A: Over time or due to certain conditions, a valve can weaken and harden, preventing blood from circulating properly. Regurgitation is a condition in which the valve flaps don’t seal properly, causing blood to flow in the wrong direction. If the valve is only slightly damaged, a surgeon may be able to repair it by removing the worn tissue and inserting a “ring” to keep the valve in shape. If the condition worsens, patients may require medication and/or surgery.

Q: How is robotic-assisted heart surgery different from open surgery for valve replacement?

A: With open-heart surgery, the surgeon makes an incision to open the chest and repairs the damaged valve or replaces it with a new valve. With robotic-assisted surgery, we can replace the valve without opening the chest with a large incision. Robotic-assisted surgery involves using a specially designed computer console to control surgical instruments for valve replacement surgery and other cardiothoracic (heart and lung) procedures.

Q: What are the benefits of using robotic-assisted surgery for heart procedures?

A: Robotic-assisted surgery provides all the benefits of a conventional open-heart procedure, plus the recovery advantages of a minimally invasive procedure with smaller incisions, less trauma to the chest and heart muscle tissue, and decreased recovery time. Minimally invasive heart valve surgery is a good option for some patients, but not everyone is a candidate for this type of surgery. If you need a heart procedure, your doctor will recommend the approach with the best possible outcome for you.