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Aortic valve replacement is typically an open-heart surgery. But a minimally invasive method—using surgery or a catheter procedure—may be an option for some people.

Minimally invasive surgery

In conventional open-heart surgery, the surgeon makes an incision in the chest and then spreads the ribs to expose the heart. This type of incision is called a sternotomy.

In minimally invasive heart surgery, the surgeon makes a smaller incision in the chest. The aortic valve is located near the front of the chest. So surgeons have discovered that aortic valve replacement can be done successfully through this smaller opening.

Surgeons may do this minimally invasive surgery in different ways. These variations include different ways to:

  • Bypass the heart with a heart-lung machine.
  • Protect the heart during surgery.
  • Make the incision in the chest to access the heart.

Despite these variations, in all other ways the technique for replacing the aortic valve is the same in minimally invasive surgery as in conventional valve surgery.

What are the potential benefits of minimally invasive valve replacement surgery?

Less invasive surgery may have benefits over conventional valve replacement surgery. These benefits can include:

  • A smaller scar.
  • Less blood loss during surgery.
  • Less pain and a shorter hospital stay.
  • Lower risk of infection.

Transcatheter valve replacement

Transcatheter aortic valve replacement is a new way to replace an aortic valve. It is done to treat aortic valve stenosis. It does not require open-heart surgery. It uses a thin, flexible tube called a catheter. The catheter is inserted through a small incision into a blood vessel, typically in the groin. The catheter is moved through blood vessels and into the heart. A specially designed artificial valve fits inside the catheter and is moved inside of the damaged aortic valve. The artificial valve expands and works as the aortic valve.

This procedure is available in a small number of hospitals. It is not right for everyone. It might be done for a person who cannot have surgery or for a person who has a high risk of serious problems from surgery. For example, it might be an option if you are not healthy enough for an open-heart surgery.

Although this procedure is minimally invasive, it has serious risks including stroke, heart muscle damage, heart block, kidney problems, and death. The long-term results of this procedure are not known yet.

Should I consider a minimally invasive method?

Whether one of these methods is right for you depends on a lot of things including your health and your personal feelings.

You will likely talk with your doctor about the potential benefits and risks for you. Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and talk about it with your doctor.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 12, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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