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Heart Valve Problems: Should I Choose a Mechanical Valve or Tissue Valve to Replace My Heart Valve?

You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

Heart Valve Problems: Should I Choose a Mechanical Valve or Tissue Valve to Replace My Heart Valve?

Get the facts

Your options

  • Get a mechanical replacement valve.
  • Get a tissue replacement valve.

Key points to remember

  • There are two main differences between mechanical and tissue valves. One is how long they last. The other is the risk of blood clots. A mechanical valve will last 20 to 30 years. A tissue valve will last about 8 to 15 years. But the risk of blood clotting is higher with a mechanical valve. Blood clots can cause a heart attack or a stroke.
  • If you are 60 or younger, a mechanical valve may be your best choice. That's because you are young enough that you probably would live longer than a tissue valve would last. A mechanical valve also may work better for you because tissue valves can become hardened, or calcified, in people age 60 or younger.
  • If you choose a mechanical valve, you will have to take a blood-thinning medicine (anticoagulant) every day for as long as you have the valve. This will lower your risk of blood clots. If you choose a tissue valve, you will need to take blood thinners for only a few months after surgery.
  • Women who may want to become pregnant and who are considering valve replacement surgery may want to consider a tissue valve. Mechanical valves require long-term use of anticoagulants, which may be harmful to a developing fetus.
  • A mechanical valve may be your best choice if you are already taking blood thinners for another health problem.
FAQs

What heart valve problems might need valve replacement surgery?

Heart valve problems that might need a valve replaced include:

  • Aortic valve regurgitation.
  • Aortic valve stenosis.
  • Mitral valve regurgitation.
  • Mitral valve stenosis.

What is aortic valve regurgitation?

Aortic valve regurgitation happens when your aortic valve does not close properly. This lets blood leak backward into your heart. When this happens, your heart has to work harder than it should.

You may need your aortic valve replaced to avoid damage to the heart and to keep enough blood flowing to the body.

What is aortic valve stenosis?

Aortic valve stenosis is a narrowing of the aortic valve. The aortic valve allows blood to flow from the heart's lower left chamber (ventricle) into the aorta and to the body. Stenosis prevents the valve from opening properly, forcing the heart to work harder to pump blood through the valve. This causes pressure to build up in the left ventricle and thickens the heart muscle.

You will likely need your aortic valve replaced if you start to have symptoms. Surgery to replace the aortic valve is the best treatment for most people.

What is mitral valve regurgitation?

Mitral valve regurgitation means that your heart's mitral valve is not closing tightly. This lets blood leak backward into your heart. When that happens, your heart may have to work harder than it should.

You may need your mitral valve replaced if you get symptoms of heart failure, if the size of your left ventricle (your heart's main pumping chamber) increases, or if your heart weakens.

What is mitral valve stenosis?

Mitral valve stenosis means that your heart's mitral valve doesn't open as wide as it should.

You may need your mitral valve replaced if you have severe symptoms, your valve is very narrow, or you are at risk for other problems, such as heart failure.

What are the differences between mechanical and tissue valves?

A tissue valve doesn't last as long as a mechanical valve. But if you get a mechanical valve, you will need to take a blood-thinning medicine (anticoagulant).

Tissue valves:

  • Last 8 to 15 years. If you get a tissue valve, you may need a second valve replacement later.
  • Can fail because of the same hardening, or calcification, that damaged the original valve.
  • May tear.

Mechanical valves:

  • Last 20 to 30 years. You are less likely to replace a mechanical valve in your lifetime.
  • Can break down. But this is very rare.
  • Have a higher risk of causing blood clotting. To prevent clots, you'll need to take a blood-thinning medicine for as long as you have the mechanical valve.

Blood-thinning medicines have risks. These medicines can increase your risk of bleeding. If you get injured while you are taking blood thinners, you risk bleeding too much. You'll need to avoid activities that have a high risk for injury, such as skiing or contact sports like football.

You will need to get blood tests to make sure you are taking the right amount of blood-thinning medicine. And you'll need to tell your doctor about any other medicines or vitamins you are taking. These may interfere with blood thinners.

Why is blood clotting more likely with a mechanical valve?

Because your body can tell that a mechanical valve is not made of natural tissue, your blood is more likely to clot on the surface of the valve. The pieces of the valve are also hard, unlike the soft tissue of a natural valve. These pieces can tear blood cells as they pass through the valve. This causes blood clots to form.

Why might your doctor recommend one type of valve over the other?

Your doctor might recommend a mechanical valve if:

  • You are already taking blood-thinning medicines for another health problem.
  • You are age 60 or younger.

Your doctor may recommend a tissue valve if:

  • You are older than 65.
  • You are younger than 60 and have severe lung disease, heart failure, or coronary artery disease.
  • You have kidney disease.
  • You have a life expectancy of less than 10 years.

Compare your options

Compare

What is usually involved?









What are the benefits?









What are the risks and side effects?









Get a mechanical valve Get a mechanical valve
  • You will stay in the hospital for 4 to 5 days after surgery. You will have a big scar on your chest from the incision. It can take 3 to 6 weeks to recover at home.
  • You will take blood-thinning medicine for as long as you have the valve.
  • You'll have regular blood tests to make sure that the blood-thinning medicine is working.
  • A mechanical valve lasts 20 to 30 years. You probably will not need another valve replacement in your lifetime.
  • These valves have a high risk of causing blood clotting. Blood clots can cause a heart attack or stroke.
  • You'll need to take blood-thinning medicine as long as you have the valve. This medicine raises your risk of bleeding. You'll need to avoid activities that have a high risk of injury, such as skiing or contact sports.
  • Mechanical valves can break down. But this is very rare.
Get a tissue valve Get a tissue valve
  • You will stay in the hospital for 4 to 5 days after surgery. You will have a big scar on your chest from the incision. It can take 3 to 6 weeks to recover at home. You may need to take 4 to 12 weeks off from work.
  • You'll take blood-thinning medicine for a few months after surgery, then take an aspirin every day after that.
  • You won't have to take blood-thinning medicine for the rest of your life.
  • Tissue valves last 8 to 15 years. If you are 60 or younger, you may outlive a tissue valve and need another.
  • Tissue valves can become hardened, or calcified, over time.
  • There is a rare risk of tissue valve failure or infection.

Personal stories

Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.

Personal stories about mechanical and tissue replacement heart valves

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

I was born with a bicuspid aortic valve. The valve has two leaflets instead of the three it's supposed to have. I'm going to have a mechanical valve, mainly because of my age—I'm only 25, so I know that if I have a tissue valve, I'll have to have it replaced at least once, and probably twice. My doctor says that tissue valves also can become hardened in younger people.

Roy, age 25

When I found out that I had a narrowed aortic valve, I talked with my doctor about what type of valve I should have. We agreed that because I'm 72, a tissue valve would be fine. They last for 10 to 15 years, and sometimes as long as 20. Besides, I won't have to take anticoagulants every day for the rest of my life.

Rhonda, age 72

I take anticoagulants for another heart condition. My doctor said that because I take this medicine anyway, I should consider having a mechanical valve because it will last longer than a tissue valve.

Chantal, age 51

I decided to have a tissue replacement valve because I have a history of bleeding stomach ulcers. If I get a mechanical valve, I will need to take anticoagulants every day, and they can increase the risk of bleeding. So a tissue valve is a better option for me.

Maurice, age 57

What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to choose a mechanical valve

Reasons to choose a tissue valve

I am young enough that I would outlive a tissue valve.

I am older than 65, so a tissue valve will probably last the rest of my life.

More important
Equally important
More important

I don't mind taking blood-thinning medicine for the rest of my life.

I don't want to take blood-thinning medicine for the rest of my life.

More important
Equally important
More important

For me, the benefits of a mechanical valve outweigh the risks of blood clotting.

I'm worried about the risks of blood clots with a mechanical valve.

More important
Equally important
More important

I accept the risk of bleeding that comes with taking blood-thinning medicine.

I have concerns about the risk of bleeding that comes with blood-thinning medicine.

More important
Equally important
More important

I'm willing to change the kinds of activities I do to reduce my risk of injury and bleeding.

I'm not willing to change the kinds of activities I do.

More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

More important
Equally important
More important

Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Getting a mechanical valve

Getting a tissue valve

Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1.

Which type of valve lasts longer?

  • A tissue valveSorry, that's not right. A mechanical valve will last 20 to 30 years. A tissue valve will last about 8 to 15 years.
  • A mechanical valveYou are right. A mechanical valve will last 20 to 30 years. A tissue valve will last about 8 to 15 years.
  • I'm not sureIt may help to go back and read "What are the differences between mechanical and tissue valves?" A mechanical valve will last 20 to 30 years. A tissue valve will last about 8 to 15 years.
2.

Which valve has a higher risk of causing blood clots?

  • A tissue valveSorry, that's not right. The risk of blood clots is higher with a mechanical valve.
  • A mechanical valveYou are right. The risk of blood clots is higher with a mechanical valve.
  • I'm not sureIt may help to go back and read "Why is blood clotting more likely with a mechanical valve?" The risk of blood clots is higher with a mechanical valve.
3.

What kind of valve requires you to take blood thinners for the rest of your life?

  • A tissue valveSorry, that's not right. If you choose a mechanical valve, you will need to take blood thinners for the rest of your life.
  • A mechanical valveThat's right. If you choose a mechanical valve, you will need to take blood thinners for the rest of your life.
  • I'm not sureIt may help to go back and read "What are the differences between mechanical and tissue valves?" If you choose a mechanical valve, you will need to take blood thinners for the rest of your life.

Decide what's next

1.

Do you understand the options available to you?

2.

Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?

3.

Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1.

How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure
3.

Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.

Your Summary

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.

Your decision 

Next steps

Which way you're leaning

How sure you are

Your comments

Your knowledge of the facts 

Key concepts that you understood

Key concepts that may need review

Getting ready to act 

Patient choices

Credits

Credits
Credits Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Specialist Medical Reviewer Stephen Fort, MD, MRCP, FRCPC - Interventional Cardiology
You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

Heart Valve Problems: Should I Choose a Mechanical Valve or Tissue Valve to Replace My Heart Valve?

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.
  1. Get the facts
  2. Compare your options
  3. What matters most to you?
  4. Where are you leaning now?
  5. What else do you need to make your decision?

1. Get the Facts

Your options

  • Get a mechanical replacement valve.
  • Get a tissue replacement valve.

Key points to remember

  • There are two main differences between mechanical and tissue valves. One is how long they last. The other is the risk of blood clots. A mechanical valve will last 20 to 30 years. A tissue valve will last about 8 to 15 years. But the risk of blood clotting is higher with a mechanical valve. Blood clots can cause a heart attack or a stroke.
  • If you are 60 or younger, a mechanical valve may be your best choice. That's because you are young enough that you probably would live longer than a tissue valve would last. A mechanical valve also may work better for you because tissue valves can become hardened, or calcified, in people age 60 or younger.
  • If you choose a mechanical valve, you will have to take a blood-thinning medicine (anticoagulant) every day for as long as you have the valve. This will lower your risk of blood clots. If you choose a tissue valve, you will need to take blood thinners for only a few months after surgery.
  • Women who may want to become pregnant and who are considering valve replacement surgery may want to consider a tissue valve. Mechanical valves require long-term use of anticoagulants, which may be harmful to a developing fetus.
  • A mechanical valve may be your best choice if you are already taking blood thinners for another health problem.
FAQs

What heart valve problems might need valve replacement surgery?

Heart valve problems that might need a valve replaced include:

  • Aortic valve regurgitation.
  • Aortic valve stenosis.
  • Mitral valve regurgitation.
  • Mitral valve stenosis.

What is aortic valve regurgitation?

Aortic valve regurgitation happens when your aortic valve does not close properly. This lets blood leak backward into your heart. When this happens, your heart has to work harder than it should.

You may need your aortic valve replaced to avoid damage to the heart and to keep enough blood flowing to the body.

What is aortic valve stenosis?

Aortic valve stenosis is a narrowing of the aortic valve. The aortic valve allows blood to flow from the heart's lower left chamber (ventricle) into the aorta and to the body. Stenosis prevents the valve from opening properly, forcing the heart to work harder to pump blood through the valve. This causes pressure to build up in the left ventricle and thickens the heart muscle.

You will likely need your aortic valve replaced if you start to have symptoms. Surgery to replace the aortic valve is the best treatment for most people.

What is mitral valve regurgitation?

Mitral valve regurgitation means that your heart's mitral valve is not closing tightly. This lets blood leak backward into your heart. When that happens, your heart may have to work harder than it should.

You may need your mitral valve replaced if you get symptoms of heart failure, if the size of your left ventricle (your heart's main pumping chamber) increases, or if your heart weakens.

What is mitral valve stenosis?

Mitral valve stenosis means that your heart's mitral valve doesn't open as wide as it should.

You may need your mitral valve replaced if you have severe symptoms, your valve is very narrow, or you are at risk for other problems, such as heart failure.

What are the differences between mechanical and tissue valves?

A tissue valve doesn't last as long as a mechanical valve. But if you get a mechanical valve, you will need to take a blood-thinning medicine (anticoagulant).

Tissue valves:

  • Last 8 to 15 years. If you get a tissue valve, you may need a second valve replacement later.
  • Can fail because of the same hardening, or calcification, that damaged the original valve.
  • May tear.

Mechanical valves:

  • Last 20 to 30 years. You are less likely to replace a mechanical valve in your lifetime.
  • Can break down. But this is very rare.
  • Have a higher risk of causing blood clotting. To prevent clots, you'll need to take a blood-thinning medicine for as long as you have the mechanical valve.

Blood-thinning medicines have risks. These medicines can increase your risk of bleeding. If you get injured while you are taking blood thinners, you risk bleeding too much. You'll need to avoid activities that have a high risk for injury, such as skiing or contact sports like football.

You will need to get blood tests to make sure you are taking the right amount of blood-thinning medicine. And you'll need to tell your doctor about any other medicines or vitamins you are taking. These may interfere with blood thinners.

Why is blood clotting more likely with a mechanical valve?

Because your body can tell that a mechanical valve is not made of natural tissue, your blood is more likely to clot on the surface of the valve. The pieces of the valve are also hard, unlike the soft tissue of a natural valve. These pieces can tear blood cells as they pass through the valve. This causes blood clots to form.

Why might your doctor recommend one type of valve over the other?

Your doctor might recommend a mechanical valve if:

  • You are already taking blood-thinning medicines for another health problem.
  • You are age 60 or younger.

Your doctor may recommend a tissue valve if:

  • You are older than 65.
  • You are younger than 60 and have severe lung disease, heart failure, or coronary artery disease.
  • You have kidney disease.
  • You have a life expectancy of less than 10 years.

2. Compare your options

  Get a mechanical valve Get a tissue valve
What is usually involved?
  • You will stay in the hospital for 4 to 5 days after surgery. You will have a big scar on your chest from the incision. It can take 3 to 6 weeks to recover at home.
  • You will take blood-thinning medicine for as long as you have the valve.
  • You'll have regular blood tests to make sure that the blood-thinning medicine is working.
  • You will stay in the hospital for 4 to 5 days after surgery. You will have a big scar on your chest from the incision. It can take 3 to 6 weeks to recover at home. You may need to take 4 to 12 weeks off from work.
  • You'll take blood-thinning medicine for a few months after surgery, then take an aspirin every day after that.
What are the benefits?
  • A mechanical valve lasts 20 to 30 years. You probably will not need another valve replacement in your lifetime.
  • You won't have to take blood-thinning medicine for the rest of your life.
What are the risks and side effects?
  • These valves have a high risk of causing blood clotting. Blood clots can cause a heart attack or stroke.
  • You'll need to take blood-thinning medicine as long as you have the valve. This medicine raises your risk of bleeding. You'll need to avoid activities that have a high risk of injury, such as skiing or contact sports.
  • Mechanical valves can break down. But this is very rare.
  • Tissue valves last 8 to 15 years. If you are 60 or younger, you may outlive a tissue valve and need another.
  • Tissue valves can become hardened, or calcified, over time.
  • There is a rare risk of tissue valve failure or infection.

Personal stories

Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.

Personal stories about mechanical and tissue replacement heart valves

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

"I was born with a bicuspid aortic valve. The valve has two leaflets instead of the three it's supposed to have. I'm going to have a mechanical valve, mainly because of my age—I'm only 25, so I know that if I have a tissue valve, I'll have to have it replaced at least once, and probably twice. My doctor says that tissue valves also can become hardened in younger people."

— Roy, age 25

"When I found out that I had a narrowed aortic valve, I talked with my doctor about what type of valve I should have. We agreed that because I'm 72, a tissue valve would be fine. They last for 10 to 15 years, and sometimes as long as 20. Besides, I won't have to take anticoagulants every day for the rest of my life."

— Rhonda, age 72

"I take anticoagulants for another heart condition. My doctor said that because I take this medicine anyway, I should consider having a mechanical valve because it will last longer than a tissue valve."

— Chantal, age 51

"I decided to have a tissue replacement valve because I have a history of bleeding stomach ulcers. If I get a mechanical valve, I will need to take anticoagulants every day, and they can increase the risk of bleeding. So a tissue valve is a better option for me."

— Maurice, age 57

3. What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to choose a mechanical valve

Reasons to choose a tissue valve

I am young enough that I would outlive a tissue valve.

I am older than 65, so a tissue valve will probably last the rest of my life.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

I don't mind taking blood-thinning medicine for the rest of my life.

I don't want to take blood-thinning medicine for the rest of my life.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

For me, the benefits of a mechanical valve outweigh the risks of blood clotting.

I'm worried about the risks of blood clots with a mechanical valve.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

I accept the risk of bleeding that comes with taking blood-thinning medicine.

I have concerns about the risk of bleeding that comes with blood-thinning medicine.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

I'm willing to change the kinds of activities I do to reduce my risk of injury and bleeding.

I'm not willing to change the kinds of activities I do.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

   
             
More important
Equally important
More important

4. Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Getting a mechanical valve

Getting a tissue valve

             
Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

5. What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1. Which type of valve lasts longer?

  • A tissue valve
  • A mechanical valve
  • I'm not sure
You are right. A mechanical valve will last 20 to 30 years. A tissue valve will last about 8 to 15 years.

2. Which valve has a higher risk of causing blood clots?

  • A tissue valve
  • A mechanical valve
  • I'm not sure
You are right. The risk of blood clots is higher with a mechanical valve.

3. What kind of valve requires you to take blood thinners for the rest of your life?

  • A tissue valve
  • A mechanical valve
  • I'm not sure
That's right. If you choose a mechanical valve, you will need to take blood thinners for the rest of your life.

Decide what's next

1. Do you understand the options available to you?

2. Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?

3. Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

         
Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure

2. Check what you need to do before you make this decision.

  • I'm ready to take action.
  • I want to discuss the options with others.
  • I want to learn more about my options.

3. Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.

 
Credits
By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Specialist Medical Reviewer Stephen Fort, MD, MRCP, FRCPC - Interventional Cardiology

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