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. But 1 to 2% of people will need to have a pacemaker fitted to control their heartbeat.
- Kidney problems – in up to 5% of people, the kidneys don't 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 to 3%.
But this risk is far lower than the risk associated with leaving severe aortic disease untreated.