Heart surgery done to replace a malfunctioning aortic valve is known as aortic valve replacement surgery. The malfunctioning of the aortic valve could be due to stenosis, or a narrowing of the valve, or due to regurgitation, or a leaking of the valve. These malfunctions could be due to congenital abnormalities, which refer to conditions present since birth, or due to an acquired disease which occurred with age.
In the case of congenital heart defects one of the most common ones is a bicuspid aortic valve. This occurs when the baby’s aortic valve does not develop as it should during gestation. A healthy aortic valve should have three leaflets. By contrast an individual with a bicuspid aortic valve only has two leaflets. Patients who have a bicuspid aortic valve are at risk of developing stenosis or regurgitation of their aortic valves.
To correct this problem a prosthetic, or artificial valve can be used to replace the malfunctioning aortic valve. There are two types: biological and mechanical.
A mechanical valve is one which is created using man-made materials. These valves have advantages and disadvantages. For instance on the positive side they are very durable; however, on the negative side there is a tendency for mechanical valves to experience blood clotting. In order to avoid this clotting problem a patient who has an artificial valve must take medicines called anticoagulants, also known as blood thinners, for the rest of their lives. The anticoagulants help prevent blood clots from forming on or around the valve.
A biological valve is one in which tissue has been taken from a living creature such as a pig, cow, or a human donor. If the valve is made from animal tissue it is called a xenograft valve, whereas if it was retrieved from a human cadaver it will be called a homograft or allograft valve. A pulmonary autograft valve is one in which the valve has been moved from a patient’s pulmonary artery, which is on the right side of the heart, to the aortic position, which is on the left side of the heart. There are also advantages and disadvantages to biological valves. For example a biological valve typically does not last as long as a mechanical valve; however, the patient often will not need to use anticoagulant medication with a biological valve.