Biomaterial of the Month


Date: December 1, 2006
Tom Webster (

Heart Valve

In anatomy, the heart valves are valves in the heart that maintain the unidirectional flow of blood by opening and closing depending on the difference in pressure on each side. The mechanical equivalent of the heart valves would be the reed valves.
There are four valves of the heart (not counting the valve of the coronary sinus and valve of the inferior vena cava):

The sound of the heart valves shutting causes the heart sounds.
Mechanical heart valves are prosthetics designed to replicate the function of the natural valves of the human heart. The human heart contains four valves: tricuspid valve, pulmonic valve, mitral valve and aortic valve. Their main purpose is to maintain unimpeded forward flow through the heart and from the heart into the major blood vessels connected to the heart, the pulmonary artery and the aorta. As a result of a number of disease processes, both acquired and congenital, any one of the four heart valves may malfunction and result in either stenosis (impeded forward flow) and/or backward flow (regurgitation). Either process burdens the heart and may lead to serious problems including heart failure. A mechanical heart valve is intended to replace a diseased heart valve with its prosthetic equivalent.
There are two basic types of valves that can be used for aortic valve replacement, mechanical and tissue valves. Modern mechanical valves can last indefinitely (the equivalent of over 50,000 years in an accelerated valve wear tester). However, current mechanical heart valves all require lifelong treatment with a blood thinner, e.g. warfarin, which requires monthly blood tests to monitor. This process of thinning the blood is called anticoagulation. Tissue heart valves, in contrast, do not require the use of anticoagulant drugs due to the improved blood flow dynamics resulting in less red cell damage and hence less clot formation. Their main weakness however, is their limited lifespan. Traditional tissue valves, made of pig heart valves, will last on average 15 years before they require replacement.

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