Recovery after valve surgery may take a long time. During
this time, your activities will be limited, you will experience physical and
emotional changes, and you may have problems (such as chest pain or trouble
sleeping). You will also need medicines, good nutrition, and exercise.
After you return home from the hospital,
you will spend weeks to months recovering from your surgery. Full recovery time
varies for each person and is influenced by your age and overall
physical condition. It also depends on your motivation to work with the
While you are recovering, you will have to limit many of
your normal activities. Most people take a few weeks off from work. But this will depend on your physical condition and the type of work you
do. Talk to your doctor to find out when it is safe for you to return to work.
You may be advised not to drive for a few weeks. Your
body needs time to regain its normal coordination and agility and to allow your
incision to heal.
To ensure proper healing, do not apply direct pressure to your surgical wound. For at least 6 weeks, avoid lifting anything that would make you strain. This may include a child, heavy grocery bags and milk containers, a heavy briefcase or backpack, or cat litter or dog food bags.
Recovery can be intensely painful and difficult at times, from both the operation and medicines you are given. You may have some
discomfort such as pain, swelling, or fatigue.
If you have symptoms of depression, talk to your doctor. Treating depression can help you stay healthy. Some people experience depression as a natural result of
recovery from invasive surgery, which is a traumatic and weakening physical
experience. Other people become depressed because they may feel isolated or
inactive during recovery.
Although it may be hard, remember
that these sensations and feelings are all normal reactions and are part of
your physical and emotional healing process. They should disappear over time.
If any of them concern you or especially cause you discomfort, discuss them
with your doctor.
What you need to watch for
Some physical symptoms
may indicate complications such as an infection. The table below lists symptoms
to be aware of and what they may mean. Call your doctor immediately if you
have any of these symptoms.
Possible symptoms after valve surgery
A fever, especially during the first few days after you return home
Excessive draining, redness, or swelling of the incision
Sudden weight gain in the first
Swelling in ankles and hands
Fluid retention, which could indicate a problem
with your circulation
Increasingly severe shortness of breath or
Problems with your heart or valve function or
Excessive fatigue, weakness, dizziness, or
Problems with blood circulation and oxygen supply
to your body parts or arrhythmia
What you need to do
Even though you have been
discharged from the hospital, you still need to visit your doctor regularly for
follow-up visits. He or she will watch your condition, discuss any
limitations on activities or diet, and prescribe medicines. Be sure you let
your doctor know about any other medicines (such as nonprescription
painkillers) that you take, as these medicines may interact with the ones
your doctor has already prescribed.
The following are some
things your doctor may discuss with you.
Anticoagulant medicine after surgery. You will need to take
anticoagulants for a few weeks after surgery to prevent dangerous blood clots that might happen while you recover. If your new valve is a
mechanical heart valve, you will need to take anticoagulants for the rest of
your life, as your blood may continually clot in response to the materials in
your artificial heart valve. If your new valve is a biological heart valve (made from
animal or human tissue), you may need to take anticoagulants for at least the
first few weeks after surgery.
Diet during recovery. In order to alleviate
constipation caused by painkillers, you will need to eat a diet rich in fruit and
fiber. In general, while your body heals, eating foods rich in
vitamins and nutrients is best.
Physical activity/exercise. Your doctor will
recommend that you follow a routine of regular exercise. To help you develop
such a routine, you may need to work with a physical therapist or go to a
cardiac rehabilitation program, where trained professionals will help you
design a regimen that does not harm you but gives you the minimum workout
that you need. Keep in mind that exercise at this time does not need to be
strenuous. Even a regular walking routine can be very helpful. You should
gradually increase the amount and intensity of any physical activity you do,
taking care not to strain yourself. Also, try to take 10 to 20 deep
breaths every 2 to 4 hours while you are awake. This will help keep your
Sleep. It is important to set a normal
sleeping pattern. Try to avoid naps and do not take sleeping pills unless it is
absolutely necessary to do so.
Hygiene. You need to wash your surgical incisions
daily with soap and water. You can do this while you shower. Immediately
report to your doctor any signs of infection, such as swelling or redness.
Smoking. It is very important that you do not
smoke while you are recovering from heart surgery. If you think you will have
difficulty with this, ask your doctor for information on smoking cessation
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.