What to Expect after Aortic Stenosis Treatment

Your recovery from aortic stenosis treatment depends on the type of procedure and how healthy you were beforehand.

Every case is different, but most people spend roughly a week in the hospital and can return to an office job in 4 to 6 weeks. You might need more time off work if your job requires you to be very active. If you have a less-invasive procedure, you may need less recovery time, both in the hospital and at home.

Right After Surgery

No matter what procedure you choose -- heart valve repair, open-heart surgery to replace your faulty valve or the newer transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) -- you’ll wake up in an intensive care unit, probably with a breathing tube in your throat.

The tube comes out as soon as your doctors are sure you’re breathing well on your own. That’s usually within a couple of hours.

An important part of your recovery is deep breathing and coughing to clear your lungs. This can hurt after surgery. You’ll probably get a pillow to hold to your chest to help ease the pain.

The staff will track of all your vital signs -- you’ll hear a lot of beeping machines -- and any pain medicine to help keep you comfortable.

When you’re ready, you’ll move from intensive care to another area of the hospital, sometimes called a step-down unit. You can usually have more visitors once you’ve moved.

Your Hospital Stay

Within days, you should be out of bed for longer and longer periods. You’ll be eating and drinking, going to the bathroom, and taking short walks around the hospital.

If you have drainage tubes in your chest, those come out a day or so after surgery. The process may be slightly painful but shouldn’t be too bad.

Before you go home, you should be spending most of the day out of bed. Some hospitals set specific goals -- such as walking 150 feet and climbing a flight of stairs -- that you must reach first.

When You’re Home

You’ll need someone to drive you home and help care for you during the first part of your recovery.

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Your doctors will let you know how to care for your surgical cuts, or “incisions.” It’s OK to take showers.

Activity is an important part of your recovery. You can’t undo the repair by walking. It’s good to gradually push your limits. Your doctor will give you guidelines on ramping up your exercise. You’ll need to avoid lifting heavy objects for the first few weeks.

You may feel some pain in your chest, back, neck or shoulders. If your appetite is off or food tastes strange, that’s normal. Your body might have trouble controlling your temperature, so you could feel unusually hot or cold at times. These are all symptoms that will go away.

Your sleep may not be great after surgery. That’s common. And you might need a nap in the middle of the day for the first few weeks you’re home. Your energy level should gradually get better.

If you’re very aware of your heartbeat, that’s normal. If you have a mechanical replacement valve, you may hear a clicking sound in your chest. That’s just the valve opening and closing.

Getting Back to Normal

Your doctor will help you decide when it’s safe to drive again, usually around 3 weeks after your operation. If you’ve had open-heart surgery, though, remember that your breastbone is still healing and is very vulnerable in an accident.

When you go back to work is up to you. It depends on how your recovery is going and how demanding your job is. You might be able to return after 3 or 4 weeks, or you might need to take more time.

As with any other physical activity, you can start having sex again when you feel well enough. Be cautious about trying to support your weight on your arms, though.

Some people become depressed during recovery from heart surgery. Staying active can help. But you should let your doctor know of any concerns about your moods. Even a few sessions of counseling might help, and there are medicines for this.

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Food, Exercise, and Checkups

Your doctor may give you a specific diet to follow. If not, eating in a way that’s heart-healthy -- lots of vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains instead of processed grains (think brown rice instead of white), and limiting added sugars, sodium, and saturated fat -- is good for your whole body.

Your doctor will give you guidelines on exercise. You should aim to get at least 150 minutes of activity a week. That’s 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.

Last but not least, go to all of your follow-up appointments and regular checkups with your cardiologist.  Remember to bring all medications that you are taking with you and a list of any questions that you have. If you have any problems in between appointments, make sure you know the best way to contact your doctor’s office for help.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on May 17, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

The Society of Thoracic Surgeons: "Patient Guide to Heart, Lung, and Esophageal Surgery -- Aortic Valve Disease."

Texas Heart Institute: "Heart Information Center -- Valve Replacement or Repair."

American Heart Association: "Heart Valve Surgery Recovery and Follow Up."

University of North Carolina Health Care: "Your Guide to Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR)."

Columbia University Department of Surgery: "After Aortic Surgery FAQs."

University of Washington Medical Center: "At Home after Your TAVR."

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