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Living a Full and Healthy Life After Heart Valve Surgery

Living a Full and Healthy Life After Heart Valve Surgery

February 07, 2020 Posted in: Heart & Vascular Care , Health & Wellness  12 minute read time


Each year in the United States, more than 5 million Americans are diagnosed with heart valve disease, which occurs when one or more heart valves do not open or close properly.

The human heart has four valves: aortic, mitral, pulmonary and tricuspid. These valves help to channel blood flow through the chambers of the heart and into the rest of the body. Valves are prone to various medical problems that can affect the way they function – resulting in narrowing or leakage – which disrupts normal circulation patterns.

This leads to various symptoms such as progressive shortness of breath, swelling of the legs, heart palpitations, chest pain, lightheadedness or blackouts resulting in the patient being unable to perform daily activities, recurrent hospitalizations, arrhythmia or rhythm problems, and potential death from heart failure and associated complications.

How Long Does it Take To Recover From a Heart Valve Replacement?

Recovering from heart valve replacement is a unique journey for each individual. The timeline for a full recovery is influenced by factors such as overall health, the specific surgery type and adherence to post-operative care instructions. Remember, your health care team is the best source for personalized guidance on your recovery, and these guidelines will vary by individual.

Returning to Activities:

  • Work: Many individuals can resume light desk work within 2-4 weeks. Jobs involving physical exertion may require a longer hiatus, possibly up to 6-8 weeks.

  • Driving: Most patients can resume driving within 2-4 weeks, once they no longer rely on pain medications and can move comfortably without restrictions.

  • Housework: Gradually resume light household activities after 2-3 weeks, while heavier tasks may need to wait until 6-8 weeks post-surgery.

  • Sexual Activity: Resuming sexual activity is often permitted after 4-6 weeks, depending on individual recovery progress.

1-Day After Surgery

Expect to still be in the intensive care unit (ICU) or a specialized cardiac unit, connected to monitoring equipment. Soreness and fatigue are common, and doctors will keep a close eye on vital signs, ensuring your new valve is functioning smoothly.

2-3 Days After Surgery

As you progress, discomfort and fatigue may persist, but improved mobility is on the horizon. Light activities, like short walks, may be encouraged, and some patients might even get the green light to head home.

5-10 Days After Surgery

Adapt to changes in your physical and mental conditions during this stretch. Energy levels may improve, but fatigue might linger. Regular follow-ups are crucial during this period to monitor progress and address any concerns.

2-3 Weeks After Surgery

Around the 2-3 week mark, start reintegrating into normal activities gradually. Engage in light exercises, maintain a balanced diet, seek emotional support if needed, and attend follow-up appointments for continued recovery guidance.

Minimally Invasive Surgical Options

Advancements in medical technology have paved the way for minimally invasive surgical options in heart valve replacement, offering a promising alternative to traditional open-heart procedures. These innovative techniques aim to reduce recovery times and enhance the overall patient experience.

Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) Procedure:

Traditionally, heart valve replacement involved open-heart surgery, requiring a sternotomy (an incision through the breastbone) to access and replace the valve. With the advent of Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR), a minimally invasive option, however, recovery times can be significantly shortened.

Recovery Timeline for TAVR:

  • Immediate Post-Procedure: Shorter hospital stay – often 1-3 days compared to the 5-7 days of traditional open-heart surgery.

  • First Week: Gradual return to light activities, with many patients resuming daily tasks sooner than with traditional surgery.

  • Two Weeks: Feeling well enough for light exercises and routine activities.

  • One Month: Noticeable improvement in energy levels and significant reduction in fatigue.

  • Six Weeks: Back to normal routines, including work and daily activities.


These minimally invasive options not only reduce physical impact but also contribute to a speedier recovery. Remember, eligibility for such procedures depends on various factors, so consult your health care professional for tailored advice.

Heart Valve Repair and Replacement Options

Long-Term Recovery After an Aortic Valve Replacement

What Should I Eat After a Heart Valve Replacement?

Maintaining a healthy diet is integral to the long-term recovery after an aortic valve replacement. Here are some tips on what to eat and what to avoid:

Recommended Foods:

  • Lean Proteins: Include sources such as poultry, fish, tofu and legumes to support muscle recovery.
  • Whole Grains: Opt for whole grains like brown rice, quinoa and whole wheat for sustained energy.

  • Fruits and Vegetables: Rich in vitamins and antioxidants, these are essential for overall health and healing.

  • Healthy Fats: Incorporating sources like avocados, nuts and olive oil for heart-healthy fats.


Foods to Avoid:

  • Highly Processed Foods: Minimize intake of processed and packaged foods high in sodium and unhealthy fats.

  • Excessive Sugar: Limit sugary snacks and beverages to maintain stable blood sugar levels.

  • Coffee: Moderate consumption of coffee is generally allowed, but you should talk to your health care provider for personalized advice.

  • Alcohol: Moderate alcohol consumption may be acceptable, but always consult with your health care team to ensure compatibility with your recovery plan.

Can you Exercise After an Aortic Valve Replacement?

Physical activity is a key component of a comprehensive recovery plan. Here are some general guidelines for exercise after heart valve replacement:

  • Walking: Start with short walks and gradually increase.

  • Aerobic Exercise: Incorporate low-impact activities like swimming or stationary cycling.

  • Avoid Heavy Lifting: Hold off on heavy lifting for about 6-8 weeks (especially over 10 pounds).

What Medicine Will I Need After an Aortic Valve Replacement?

After an aortic valve replacement, a carefully managed medication regimen is essential to support the healing process and maintain cardiovascular health. Here are examples of medications that may be recommended by your doctors, along with medications that should be avoided:

Recommended Medications:

  • Anticoagulants (Blood Thinners): These medications, such as warfarin or newer direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs), help prevent blood clots and reduce the risk of stroke.

  • Antiplatelet Agents: Medications like aspirin may be prescribed to inhibit platelets and further reduce the risk of blood clots.

  • Beta-Blockers: These medications, such as metoprolol or carvedilol, help regulate heart rate and blood pressure, easing the workload on the heart.

  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme (ACE) Inhibitors or Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers (ARBs): These drugs may be prescribed to manage blood pressure and improve overall heart function.

  • Statins: Medications like atorvastatin or simvastatin help control cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of plaque buildup in the arteries.

  • Pain Medications: In the immediate postoperative period, pain medications, such as acetaminophen or opioids, may be prescribed to manage discomfort.


Important Considerations:

  • Adherence to Medication: Strict adherence to the prescribed medication schedule is crucial for optimal recovery and ongoing cardiovascular health.

  • Regular Follow-Up: Regular follow-up appointments with health care providers are essential to monitor the effectiveness of medications, make any necessary adjustments, and address any concerns or side effects.

It is imperative to communicate openly with health care professionals about any existing medications, allergies, or concerns to ensure a tailored and effective medication plan for your post-aortic valve replacement recovery.

Can You Travel After an Aortic Valve Replacement?

After undergoing an aortic valve replacement, travel can be a feasible and enjoyable aspect of life. However, it's important to consider certain factors and potential restrictions to ensure a safe and comfortable journey. Here's what you need to know:

General Guidelines for Travel:

  • Driving a Motor Vehicle: Operating a motor vehicle is often restricted immediately after surgery due to the impact on chest muscles. The ability to drive varies among individuals, and your health care provider will guide you on when it is safe to resume driving.

Considerations and Restrictions:

  • Air Travel: Discuss air travel plans with your health care team, especially if you're considering flying. Airplane cabins are pressurized, and changes in altitude can affect the cardiovascular system. It's crucial to ensure that you are ready for the physical demands of air travel.

  • Driving Restrictions: Avoid driving until you have fully regained strength and mobility, and your health care provider has given approval. This may take a few weeks, and it's important to adhere to their guidance for a safe recovery.

  • Precautions During Travel: Regardless of the mode of travel, take breaks to stretch and move around to prevent stiffness. Stay hydrated, and be mindful of any signs of fatigue or discomfort.


Consultation with Health Care Providers:

Always consult your health care team before making travel plans. They will consider your specific health condition, the nature of the journey, and any potential risks associated with the mode of transportation. This ensures that you receive personalized advice tailored to your unique recovery needs.

Complications and Side Effects to Consider

While aortic valve replacement is generally a highly successful procedure, it's crucial to be aware of potential long-term complications and symptoms that may warrant immediate medical attention. Regular follow-up with your health care team is essential, and if you experience any of the following complications or symptoms, contact your doctor promptly:

  • Chest Pain or Discomfort: New or worsening chest pain can be a sign of various cardiac issues and requires immediate medical attention.

  • Shortness of Breath: If you experience sudden or severe shortness of breath, it may indicate problems with the heart or lungs and should be addressed promptly.

  • Irregular Heartbeat (Arrhythmia): Persistent irregular heartbeats, palpitations or a rapid heartbeat could signal arrhythmias that need evaluation.

  • Signs of Infection: Watch for signs such as fever, chills, or increased redness, swelling, or discharge at the surgical site.

  • Excessive Bleeding: If you notice unexpected or excessive bleeding from the surgical site, gums, or elsewhere, contact your doctor immediately.

  • Swelling in the Legs or Abdomen: Sudden or severe swelling may indicate fluid retention and potential heart or kidney issues.

  • Dizziness or Fainting: Persistent dizziness or fainting spells may suggest issues with blood circulation or heart function.

  • Fatigue: While fatigue is common during recovery, an unexplained and persistent lack of energy could be a sign of an underlying problem.

  • New or Worsening Valvular Symptoms: If symptoms similar to those experienced before the valve replacement, such as chest pain or shortness of breath, recur or worsen, consult your healthcare provider.

  • Unexplained Weight Gain: Rapid or unexplained weight gain may indicate fluid retention and warrants medical attention.

  • Changes in Urination: Noticeable changes in frequency, color or volume of urine may signal kidney-related issues.

  • Difficulty Speaking or Weakness on One Side of the Body: These symptoms could indicate a stroke and require immediate emergency medical attention.

Remember, early detection and prompt medical intervention are critical in addressing potential complications. If you experience any concerning symptoms or have questions about your recovery, do not hesitate to contact your health care provider. Regular communication with your medical team ensures that issues are identified and addressed promptly, contributing to a safer and more successful long-term recovery.

Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) Recovery

Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) is an innovative approach to aortic valve replacement that differs from traditional open-heart surgery. In TAVR, a prosthetic valve is delivered to the heart through a catheter, typically inserted through a blood vessel in the leg. This minimally invasive technique eliminates the need for a large incision and the use of a heart-lung machine.

Key Differences from Open Heart Surgery:

  • Incision Size: TAVR involves small incisions, often in the leg, compared to the sternotomy (incision through the breastbone) required for open-heart surgery.
  • Faster Procedure: TAVR generally takes less time compared to open-heart surgery, resulting in a quicker overall procedure.

  • Shorter Hospital Stay: Recovery with TAVR is typically associated with a shorter hospital stay of one to two nights, often allowing patients to return home within a few days post-procedure.


Recovery Timeline Comparison:

  • Immediate Post-Procedure:
    • TAVR: Patients may experience a shorter hospital stay, often being discharged within 1-3 days.
    • Open-Heart Surgery: Recovery in the hospital usually extends to 5-7 days or longer.
  • Return to Activities:
    • TAVR: Patients often experience a quicker return to daily activities due to smaller incisions.
    • Open-Heart Surgery: Return to activities may take several weeks, with limitations on strenuous tasks.
  • Pain and Discomfort:
    • TAVR: Patients may experience less pain and discomfort compared to open-heart surgery.
    • Open-Heart Surgery: Postoperative pain is typically more pronounced and may require longer pain management.
  • Overall Recovery Time:
    • TAVR: Recovery is generally faster, allowing patients to resume normal activities sooner.
    • Open-Heart Surgery: A more extended recovery period may be needed before patients can fully engage in daily life.
  • Follow-Up Appointments:
    • TAVR: Follow up in the month after the procedure, then annual follow-ups to monitor progress and address any concerns.
    • Open-Heart Surgery: Similar follow-up appointments but potentially with a more extended initial recovery phase.


It's important to note that the choice between TAVR and open-heart surgery is based on individual factors, and the recovery experience can vary. Consultation with healthcare professionals is crucial in determining the most suitable approach for each patient, taking into account factors such as overall health, age, and the extent of the valve disease. TAVR represents a significant advancement in cardiac care, offering a less invasive option with potentially faster and smoother recovery for eligible patients.

Learn more about TAVR

Can You Live a Long Life After Heart Valve Surgery?

Severe aortic stenosis is a lethal condition, therefore, aortic valve replacement can ensure that patients live long, fulfilling lives after heart valve surgery. Advances in medical technology and surgical techniques have significantly improved the outcomes of heart valve procedures, allowing patients to enjoy an extended and high-quality life post-surgery.

Impact on Lifespan:

  • Improved Cardiovascular Health: Heart valve surgery aims to correct abnormalities, enhancing overall cardiovascular function. Successful procedures can contribute to a longer and healthier life by reducing the risk of complications related to heart valve issues.
  • Disease Management: Heart valve surgery often addresses underlying conditions, such as valve stenosis or regurgitation, which, if left untreated, could lead to more severe cardiac problems. By managing these conditions, patients can potentially extend their lifespan.


Impact on Quality of Life:

  • Enhanced Physical Function: Correcting valve issues can lead to improved blood flow, alleviating symptoms like fatigue and shortness of breath. This enhancement in physical function positively impacts the patient's quality of life.
  • Symptom Relief: Heart valve surgery can relieve symptoms associated with valve disorders, allowing patients to engage in daily activities with greater ease and comfort.
  • Increased Energy Levels: Addressing heart valve issues often results in improved cardiac output, leading to increased energy levels and overall vitality.
  • Regular Physical Activities: As recovery progresses, many patients can resume regular physical activities, contributing to a more active and fulfilling lifestyle.


Postoperative Care and Lifestyle:

  • Follow-Up Care: Regular follow-up appointments with health care providers are critical to monitor overall health and address any potential issues.
  • Lifestyle Modifications: Adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet, regular exercise, and stress management, can further contribute to a long and thriving life after heart valve surgery.
  • Medication Adherence: Following prescribed medications and adhering to medical advice is vital for maintaining the benefits of the surgery and preventing complications.

It's essential to recognize that individual outcomes may vary, and the success of heart valve surgery is influenced by factors such as overall health, age, and adherence to postoperative care. However, with proper medical care, a positive mindset, and a commitment to a heart-healthy lifestyle, many individuals go on to lead vibrant, fulfilling lives for many years after undergoing heart valve surgery. Always consult with healthcare professionals for personalized guidance based on your specific health condition and needs.

To learn more about heart valve replacements, contact CHI Saint Joseph Medical Group - Cardiology. The practice is located at 1401 Harrodsburg Road, Suite A-300 in Lexington, and can be reached by calling 859.276.4429.

Dr. Nezar Falluji is with CHI Saint Joseph Medical Group – Cardiology.

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