cardiovascular surgeons peoria
surgeons that care phoenix
cardiovascular surgeons peoria

Patient Education by Arizona Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgeons
Scottsdale 480-661-0700 | Peoria 623-476-5190

About Heart Valves, Heart Valve Disease, and Heart SurgeryCardiovascular and thoracic surgeons of Arizona, Phonix Patient Education

Are you facing open-heart surgery for the replacement or repair of a heart valve?  You are most certainly not alone.  Every year in excess of 700,000 patients from all corners for the world undergo some type of heart surgery.  You’ll certainly recognize many names of the famous that are just as human as we are, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Barbara Bush, Barbara Walters, David Letterman, and Bret Michaels: all of whom have undergone successful heart surgery!

If it has been determined, by your doctor that one of your heart valves needs to be replaced or repaired, the team at Arizona Cardiovascular & Thoracic Surgeons encourages you to take the time to learn more about your condition. Understanding what is happening to you and what needs to be done to fix it is important whether it be your heart valves, heart valve disease, and become familiarly with the advances in surgical procedures that are recommended surgery options to remedy the condition. To make a more informed decision a healthy knowledge of your heart and what you will be experiencing during treatment and recovery will build your confidence and reduce the stress of your situation.

What does a Heart Valve Do?
About Heart Valve Disease
The Symptoms of Heart Valve Disease
Diagnosing Heart Valve Disease
Traditional Heart Valve Surgery
Minimal Incision Heart Valve Surgery

What Does a Heart Valve Do?Cardiovascular and throacic surgeons, phoenix AZ Heart Valve

Your heart is a powerful muscle that is designed to keep blood moving through every part of your body. Your blood picks up oxygen from your lungs, and your heart continually pumps blood that oxygenated blood to deliver its oxygen to the rest of your body. All of the organs and muscles in our bodies rely on the oxygen that the heart and circulatory system delieversl. When the blood returns to the heart after delivering the oxygen, the heart pumps it back to the lungs to pick up oxygen again and repeats the cycle.

For this process to work efficiently, the blood must move smoothly, and in only one direction. Your heart valves open to permit blood to move forward, and then close to prevent blood from moving backward. If blood is allowed to move backward people can be easily fatigued and feel tired all the time.

As it enters the heart, blood is pumped through the mitral and tricuspid valves. These two valves control blood flow between the upper and lower chambers of the heart.

On its way out of the heart, blood passes through the pulmonary and aortic valves.

Heart Valve DiseaseCardiovascular and Thoracic surgeons, Phoenix AZ Heart Valve disease

Several things can go wrong with the heart’s valves.

Prolapse:  When a worn-out valve fails to close properly and leaks, or prolapses, blood flows backward (regurgitates) and the heart must work harder as it pumps some of the same blood through the valve repeatedly.

Approximately 4 to 5 percent of the general population will suffer from a heart valve that wears out and begins to leak, or fails to open completely. Most often it is the mitral valve that leaks.

Stenosis:  Calcium deposits may harden and narrow a heart valve. This narrowing, known as stenosis, keeps the valve from opening completely and reduces the amount of blood that can flow through it. This leads to increased risk of blood clots and requires the heart to work harder.

Stenosis generally affects the aortic valve.

Infection: Some types of infection may also lead to problems with a heart valve. The bacteria that cause rheumatic fever can damage the heart, especially its valves, and an infection called bacterial endocarditis can deform or damage heart valves.

Symptoms of Heart Valve DiseaseCardiovascular and Thoracic surgeons, Phoenix AZ, Heart Valve disease symptoms

A worn out or damaged heart valve can cause some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling tired (fatigue) during exertion
  • A cough, especially a cough at night or when laying down
  • An irregular or abnormally fast heart beat (palpitations)
  • Swollen feet or ankles
  • Pain or tightness in the chest
  • Dizziness

Even a relatively insignificant leak in a heart valve can cause severe symptoms.

If you have symptoms, you may require surgery to repair or replace the diseased valve. It's important to get an examination if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. Early diganosis improves recovery.

Tests Used to Diagnose Heart Valve DiseaseCardiovascular and Thoracic surgeons, Phoenix AZ, Heart Valve Disease Testing

After discussing your symptoms and listening to your heart to check for a murmur, the doctor may use a number of different tests to “see” how your heart is working before diagnosing heart valve disease as the cause of your symptoms.

  • A chest x-ray can determine the size of your heart
  • An electrocardiogram (also called an ECG or EKG) can detect a problem with your heart’s rhythm and some problems with how the blood flows
  • An ultrasound test called an echocardiogram makes it possible to watch each heart valve, checking on its structure and thickness, as it opens and closes. Your doctor may order a special type of this test, called a transesophageal echocardiogram.
  • A Transesophageal Echo (TEE) allows the doctor to get detailed pictures of your heart by inserting small transducer into your esophagus.
  • Cardiac catheterization allows the doctor to determine whether your symptoms are due to specific valve problems or coronary heart disease by running a catheter from a blood vessel in your arm, upper thigh, or your neck to your heart.
  • By making your heart work hard and beat fast during a stress test, doctors can check for signs and symptoms of heart valve disease through heart tests and imaging while your heart is hard at work. It also helps them to assess the severity of your heart valve disease.

Traditional Heart Valve SurgeryCardiovascular and Thoracic surgeions, phoenix AZ, Traditonal Heart Surgery

During traditional heart surgery, or “open-chest” surgery, to repair or replace a heart valve:

  • The surgeon makes one large main incision in the middle of the chest through the breastbone to access the heart and heart valves. This is known as a thoracotomy.
  • A heart-lung machine takes over the job of circulating blood throughout the body during the surgery, because the heart must be still and while the surgeon operates.

Open-heart surgery requires approximately an average of 10 weeks recovery time. In addition to caring for your heart and valves as they recover, special care must be taken to prevent infection or other complications with the incision made to access your heart.

Minimally Invasive Heart Valve SurgeryCardiovascular and Thoracic Surgeons, Phoenix AZ, Minimally invasive heart surgery

The alternative to traditional “open-chest” surgery is Minimally Invasie Heart Valve Surgery. Many surgeons, including the team at Arizona Cardiovascular & Thoracic Surgeons, are able to offer certain patients minimal incision valve surgery as an effective alternative to open-chest heart valve surgery.

How Minimal Incision Valve Surgery is Performed

As implied by the name, minimal incision valve surgery does not require a large incision or cutting through the entire breastbone because the surgeon can gain access through one of three smaller, much less visible incisions (sometimes called “ports”). These incisions are made either:

  • Between the ribs
  • Through the breastbone
  • In the groin

Note that the surgeons at AzCVTS do not utilize the breastbone incision technique in their procedures. They only use the rib and groin port techniques.

Surgeons are then able to repair or replace the diseased valve through one or more of the ports by looking at the heart directly or through a small, tube-shaped camera.

Our doctors at Arizona Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgeons will evaluate whether you are a candidate for a minimal incision procedure instead of traditional open-chest surgery.

During the more than 15 years that this surgical option has been available, numerous studies have demonstrated that a minimal incision approach offers patients a number of advantages, including:

  • Lower risk of complications - The less invasive approach reduces the possibility of complications related to a full incision through the breastbone.
  • Less pain and trauma to the body  - Since the incision is much smaller and the breastbone remains intact (or less affected than with open-chest surgery), most patients report that they have less pain.
  • Faster recovery and return to normal activity - Patients typically spend less time in the intensive care unit after surgery, and are able to return home sooner. Many patients (46%) return to work within 4 weeks. By the eighth week, 71% are back at work or resuming normal activities. In comparison, it takes an average of 8 weeks to return to normal activity after a typical open-chest procedure.
  • A smaller, less visible scar - Most patients are very pleased with the cosmetic results of the procedure. Unlike a larger scar in the middle of the chest, the smaller scar from the minimal incision is hardly visible.

Not surprisingly, most patients report that they would choose the minimal incision approach again if they found themselves facing the same situation!

If you have any questions about heart valve surgery or another thoracic surgery please contact us at our Scottsdale or Peoria Arizona locations.


thoracic surgeons peoria
surgeons phoenix
arizona cardiovascular peoria
meet the doctors scottsdale
patient education peoria
surgical procedures  scottsdale
frequently asked surgical questions peoria
document center scottsdale
patient testimonials scottsdale
contact arizona cardiovascular and thoracic surgeons scottsdale peoria 623-476-5190
surgeons that care

8402 E Shea Blvd Suite 100
Scottsdale, AZ 85260
(click for directions)


Monday - Friday
8:00am - 5:00pm
No Weekends or Holidays

13943 N. 91st Ave. Suite B-101
Peoria, AZ 85381
(click for directions)

Monday, Wednesday, Thursday
8:00am - 5:00pm
No Weekends or Holidays

arizona cardiovascular and thoracic surgeons thoracic surgeons scottsdale