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Aortic valve replacement

Read about the main complications associated with an aortic valve replacement, including infections, kidney problems and an irregular heartbeat.

Like any type of surgery, an aortic valve replacement is associated with a number of complications. Fortunately, serious problems are uncommon.

The risk of experiencing complications is generally higher for older people and those in generally poor health.

Possible problems include:

  • Infection – there's a risk of wound infections, lung infections, bladder infections and heart valve infections (endocarditis). You may be given antibiotics to reduce this risk.
  • Excessive bleeding – tubes may be inserted into your chest to drain the blood, and sometimes another operation is needed to stop the bleeding.
  • Blood clots – this is more likely if you have had mechanical valve replacement. You'll be prescribed anticoagulant medication if you're at risk.
  • Stroke or transient ischaemic attack (TIA) – where the supply of blood to the brain becomes blocked.
  • The valve may wear out – this is more likely in people who have had a biological valve replacement for a long time.
  • Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) – this affects around 25% of people after an aortic valve replacement and usually passes with time. However, 1-2% of people will need to have a pacemaker fitted to control their heartbeat.
  • Kidney problems – in up to 5% of people, the kidneys do not work as well as they should for the first few days after surgery. In a few cases, temporary dialysis may be needed.

An aortic valve replacement is a major operation and occasionally the complications can be fatal. Overall, the risk of dying as a result of the procedure is estimated to be 1-3%.

However, this risk is far lower than the risk associated with leaving severe aortic disease untreated.

Aortic valve
The aortic valve is the valve that controls the flow of blood out of the left ventricle of the heart, to the aorta (the body’s main artery).

Stroke
A stroke is a serious medical condition that occurs when the blood supply to the brain is disturbed or restricted. Brain cells begin to die and this can lead to brain damage and possibly death.

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