Heart valve surgery and procedures are performed to repair or replace a valve in the heart that is not working properly because of valvular heart disease (also called heart valve disease). Heart valve surgery is open-heart surgery through the breastbone, into the chest. It is a major operation that can last two hours or longer and recovery often takes several weeks. There are newer, less invasive procedures suitable for some types of valvular heart disease, but they are only done at certain hospitals.
How Long Does It Take to Recover After Heart Valve Surgery?
The majority of heart valve replacement recipients remain in the hospital for approximately five to seven days. If your surgery was minimally invasive, you might be able to go home earlier. Medical staff will offer pain medication as needed and continuously monitor your blood pressure, breathing, and heart function during the first few days after a heart valve replacement.
Full recovery may take a few weeks or up to several months, depending on your rate of healing and the type of surgery that was performed. Infection is the primary risk directly after surgery, so keeping your incisions sterile is of utmost importance. Always contact your physician right away if you have symptoms that indicate infection, such as:
. tenderness or swelling at the incision site
. increased drainage from the incision site
Follow-up appointments are important and will help your doctor determine when you’re ready to resume your everyday activities. Make sure you have a support system in place for the time following your surgery. Ask family members and friends to help you out around the house and drive you to medical appointments as you recover.
What Should I Eat After Heart Valve Surgery?
After your valve surgery, you’ll need to focus on eating a healthy diet. This will help your body to heal and reduce your risk of complications and enable you to recover well.
You may notice that you have a poor appetite and find that food has lost its flavor. Your sense of smell may change and you may also experience a strange metallic taste in your mouth. This can be caused by the operation or your medication and can take 3 months to fully recover. Try to eat small amounts of food often.
Many studies have shown that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seeds can reduce your risk of heart disease. A healthy diet provides your body with plenty of heart-protective nutrients - like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and dietary fiber.
Ideally, your diet should include:
. Meat - and/or meat alternatives such as eggs, tofu, legumes and nuts
. Fish - 2 serves of oily fish per week such as salmon, mackerel or sardines will help you get plenty of heart healthy omega-3 fats
. Wholegrains - good wholegrain choices include whole meal or wholegrain bread or crackers, brown rice, whole meal pasta, quinoa, freekeh, barley, rye, rolled oats, polenta and couscous
. Dairy - preferably low fat
. Healthy fats - a small amount of healthy fats and oils from nuts, seeds, avocado and oily fish
. Water - avoid sugary soft drinks and drink alcohol only in moderation
Aim to consume 2 serves of fruit, 5 serves of vegetables and 4 or more serves of wholegrains - depending on your energy needs. Some other tips to help you eat well include:
. Reduce your salt intake - use as little salt as possible when cooking as this will help to lower your blood pressure and help prevent fluid retention
. Avoid sugary foods - these are often eaten in place of healthy foods and can contribute to weight gain
What Medications Will I Need to Take After Heart Valve Surgery?
After valve surgery you’ll need to take pain medications, as you can feel wound and muscle pain for a few weeks (if the pain persists beyond a few weeks, see your doctor). You’ll also be given medicines to lower your risk of infection or a secondary cardiac event.
Medications work best when you’re being healthy in all areas of your life - for example, exercising, quitting smoking and eating a healthy diet.
Everyone has individual requirements for medications, and you’ll be given a personalized medication plan that’s right for you. If you have any questions about any medication you are taking, ask your doctor or pharmacist.
How Do I Reduce My Risk of Further Heart Problems After Heart Valve Surgery?
After your valve surgery, it’s very important to take steps to reduce your risk of having another heart problem or needing more heart surgery. After valve surgery, you have an increased risk for developing an infection of the valve (endocarditis). You’ll need to take steps to prevent risk of infection - including maintaining good dental hygiene.
The good news is that complications from your valve surgery aren't common. You should see your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms, which may signal a problem with your heart:
. Persistent chest pain which is not related to your wound (angina is rare, but possible)
. Irregular heartbeat or palpitations
. Persistent fever over 38 degrees Celsius
. Rapid weight change (over 2kg in 24 hours)
. Dizziness or fainting
. Excessive tiredness or weakness
. Severe shortness of breath or shortness of breath which is increasing
. Nausea and vomiting
. Wound infection; signs include ooze, redness or swelling
. Weight loss or appetite change
. A cold or sore throat
How Do I Resume My Regular Activities After Heart Valve Surgery?
It's important to protect your breastbone whilst it's healing after cardiac surgery. Here’s a look at when it’s safe to resume some common activities:
. Driving – The RTA enforces no driving for 4-6 weeks, except on the advice of your doctor, as concentration, reflex time and eyesight are often affected for 6 weeks
. Sex – Sex requires about the same amount of energy as walking up two flights of stairs, and you’re generally ready to ease back into this from around week 3 (it’s normal to lose interest in sexual activity for a while; however, like other activities, you should be back to normal at 3 months)
. Work – You can return to work related activities as soon as your concentration, confidence and physical abilities allow, and most people return to light office work from 6 weeks and heavy work at 3 months
. Gardening – during your first week at home you’ll be able to hose the garden, and by the third week you can do a small amount of weeding and pruning. By your sixth week you can dig soft soil, and trimming hedges can be done at the eighth week
. Housework –start with the activities that you like to do the most, and keep it simple - light cooking, flower arranging, tidying up, dusting, washing up and clothes washing can all be started early, but delegate the heavier tasks to your family
How Do I Start Exercising Again After Heart Valve Surgery?
Exercising will help to speed up your recovery, and it’s a key component of a healthy lifestyle. Exercise increases your fitness levels, helps control blood pressure, weight and cholesterol, and keep you relaxed.
Start with short and simple walks, and gradually increase length and intensity. You can walk as much as you like as long as you feel comfortable, and daily walking - if only for a few minutes - is ideal. Here’s an example of how you might ease back into some other common forms of exercise:
. Bowls – practice swinging the ball at six weeks, attend a roll up at eight weeks you could, and by three months you should be back to a full competitive game
. Tennis –practice hitting the ball and gentle serving at six weeks, play a leisurely game of doubles at 8-10 weeks, and at 3 months you should be able to play a full competitive game
About Iranian Surgery
Iranian surgery is an online medical tourism platform where you can find the best heart (cardiac) surgeons in Iran. The price of Heart Valve Replacement Surgery in Iran can vary according to each individual’s case and will be determined by an in-person assessment with the doctor.
For more information about the cost of Heart Valve Replacement Surgery in Iran and to schedule an appointment in advance, you can contact Iranian Surgery consultants via WhatsApp number 0098 901 929 0946. This service is completely free.