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Heart Valve Surgery: Recovery

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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

Symptom

Could mean

A fever, especially during the first few days after you return home

Excessive draining, redness, or swelling of the incision

Infection

Sudden weight gain in the first two days

Swelling in ankles and hands

Fluid retention, which could indicate a problem with your circulation
Increasingly severe shortness of breath or coughingProblems with your heart or valve function or fluid retention
Excessive fatigue, weakness, dizziness, or faintingProblems 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 lungs clear.
  • 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 programs.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 12, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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