The heart’s four valves prevent blood from flowing back in the wrong direction as it is pumped around the body. In transplantation, a distinction is made between mechanical (artificial) heart valves and biological valves. Biological valves are broken down further into two categories: xenografts (tissue from cows, pigs or horses) and homografts (tissue from humans). Human valves last up to 20 years, animal valves slightly less, and artificial valves maintain their functionality longer than biological valves. However, patients have to take anticoagulant medication for the rest of their lives.
Human heart valves mainly come from deceased tissue and organ donors; in rare cases, they may also come from living donors who are going to receive a new heart.
There is an age limit of 65 years for donating a heart valve.
Medical conditions that may lead to transplantation
Damage to heart valves may be caused by hardening of the arteries, heart attacks or infections. In rare cases, children may be born with heart or heart valve defects.
Between 20 and 40 homograft transplantations are performed in Switzerland every year. No figures are recorded for operations with artificial and animal heart valves for Switzerland as a whole. As Switzerland does not have a tissue bank for heart valves, the required transplants are imported from other countries.