Mitral valve replacement is done when the mitral valve is not working well. The mitral valve is on the left side of the heart. It allows blood to flow from the left upper chamber (left atrium) into the left lower chamber (left ventricle). When the valve is not working well, it may need to be replaced.

Reasons for Procedure

Healthy heart valves permit one-way flow of blood. Diseased valves either leak, causing back flow, or narrow, restricting flow. In either case, the condition can be life-threatening. Sometimes the valve can be repaired. At other times it must be replaced.

Rheumatic fever, infections, and congenital defects are the most common causes of mitral valve problems.

Possible Complications

If you are planning to have a mitral valve replacement, your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Damage to the heart or other organs
  • Reaction to anesthesia

The demands of open heart surgery are severe. The better your general health, the less likely you will experience a complication. Some of the risk factors that must be evaluated before you undergo this procedure include:

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

Only half to three-quarters of all mitral valves can be fixed. You will be thoroughly evaluated. Your doctor will evaluate both your general health and the condition of your heart and circulation. Expect several heart tests, including an electrocardiogram (EKG) and an echocardiogram (using ultrasound).

Leading up to your procedure:

  • Talk to your doctor about your medicines, herbs, or supplements. You may be asked to stop taking some medicines up to one week before the procedure, like:
  • Do not eat or drink anything starting the night before your procedure.


You will have a general anesthetic. You will be asleep.

Description of the Procedure

An incision will be made the length of your breast bone. The breast bone will be split lengthwise to expose your heart. You will then be put on a heart-lung machine. This machine takes over the work of your heart so that the doctor can stop your heart.

Your heart will be opened. A substitute valve will be sewn into place. This valve may be mechanical (metal and plastic), such as a St. Jude valve, or made of tissue. Tissue valves most often come from a pig (porcine valve) or a cow (bovine valve). Tissue valves may also be supplied by a human donor or even manufactured from your own tissues. Once the valve is in place, you will be taken off of the heart-lung machine and your heart will be re-started. The incision will be closed.

Mitral Valve Replacement

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Newer techniques, including robot-assisted procedures, are being developed. These procedures will be able to do the same surgery with smaller incisions.

Immediately After Procedure

You will be taken to a recovery room. There, you will be monitored for any negative reactions.

How Long Will It Take?

About 2-5 hours

How Much Will It Hurt?

Anesthesia will block pain during the surgery. Your chest and back will be sore following the surgery. Talk to your doctor about medicine to help manage pain.

Average Hospital Stay

The usual length of stay is 8-10 days. Your doctor may choose to keep you longer if complications arise.

Postoperative Care

At the Hospital

You will probably spend 1-3 days in the intensive care unit (ICU) and a week in a regular hospital room. During this time, your care team will:

  • Observe you for any complications
  • Stabilize your heart function
  • Instruct you in homecare and activities

At Home

Be sure to follow your doctor's instructions, which may include:

  • If you have a mechanical valve, you will need to take blood thinners for an extended period of time. This will help to prevent blood clots.
  • You may also need to take antibiotics during dental procedures and during certain other procedures. This will help prevent a valve infection.
  • You will slowly return to your usual activities over a 4-12 week period. You may also be asked to participate in a cardiac rehabilitation program.

Mechanical valves last a lifetime. Tissue valves last 7-14 years and then must be replaced. If your valve is repaired and you have no complications, you will likely do well and be able to return to normal activities.

Call Your Doctor

After you leave the hospital, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:

  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or any discharge from the incision site
  • Constipation, diarrhea, bloody or tarry-color bowel movements, or stomach pain
  • Weight gain (greater than two pounds in two days)
  • Worsening of ankle swelling
  • Severe headache
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Skin rash, or unusual bruising or bleeding
  • Confusion
  • Dizzy or lightheaded when standing
  • Tingling in hands and feet
  • Irregular heartbeat, extremely slow pulse, or fast pulse
  • Burning during urination

In case of an emergency, CALL 911.