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Heart Valve Replacement Surgery - Topic Overview

Remove heart-lung bypass

When the new valve is in place, the surgeon will allow some blood to flow through the valve to check for leaks. The surgeon will sew up the aorta, remove air bubbles from your heart, and restore blood flow. When blood flows through your heart, it will typically start beating again. Sometimes, though, the heart begins to beat erratically (fibrillate), and the surgeon will give it an electrical shock to induce normal beating patterns.

Close the chest

When your heart is beating normally, your surgeon will close your rib cage using heavy-gauge steel wire to sew the breastbone (sternum) together. The surgeon then will use stitches to close the incision in your chest. In most cases, you will have a visible scar on your chest.

Recover in the hospital

In the ICU

When you first wake up after your operation, you will be in an intensive care unit (ICU) so that your doctor can monitor your heart function to make sure that there are no complications. You will also find many wires and tubes inserted into different body parts. Most of these wires and tubes were inserted while you were in surgery. But they were kept in place to help your body perform vital functions and to provide you intravenously with medicine (primarily painkillers) and nutrients.

The purposes of the wires and tubes include checking your heart and blood pressure, getting blood samples, draining fluid from your chest, and draining urine from your bladder.

At first, you will feel drowsy and disoriented while the anesthesia wears off. You may also experience some pain, though you will be given painkillers. For the first few hours after surgery, you will be kept on a respirator or ventilating machine to help you breathe. The breathing tube usually will be removed from your lungs soon after you wake up.

In your hospital room

When your condition stabilizes and you have been moved to a regular hospital room, you will continue to rest and recuperate while your doctor monitors your recovery. Your care will also include physical and respiratory therapy, emphasizing breathing exercises and simple exercise such as walking. You will also receive counseling about a heart-healthy diet and exercises that you should maintain after you leave the hospital.

You will likely be able to eat solid foods within 24 hours after surgery and will be able to get up and walk around within 48 hours after surgery. Your chest will, of course, be sore for some time.

This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

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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