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​There are four valves within the human heart: the tricuspid valve, the pulmonary valve, the mitral valve and the aortic valve. The valves act as a one-way channel, preventing the backflow of blood. When a heart valve doesn't work as it should or is damaged, heart valve replacement surgery is recommended. The most commonly replaced valves are the aortic and mitral valves.

If you're undergoing heart valve replacement surgery, here is what you can expect in the months post-surgery. It's important to note that heart valve replacement recovery time depends on a number of factors, including how healthy you were before surgery.

2-8 Weeks After Surgery

Activity

Following your discharge from the hospital, you will be limited to the amount and the types of activities you can do. While you'll be able to ride in a car, it'll be a few weeks before you can drive. You'll most likely feel tired and sore following surgery. These symptoms will generally improve after 2 to 4 weeks. You'll want to start with light physical activity, resting often. Avoid rigorous exercise or lifting anything over ten pounds.

Outpatient Care

To check your progress, you should schedule your first outpatient exam around three to four weeks after discharge. Tests include, but are not limited to:

  • Complete physical examination
  • ECG, chest X-ray and echocardiogram
  • Blood tests

Diet

You may not feel hungry in your first few weeks of recovery which is quite normal. When you eat, be sure to follow a heart-healthy, low sodium diet. You may find that constipation is an issue. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables and drink plenty of water. If you haven't had a bowel movement in days, your doctor may prescribe a laxative.

Wound Care

Wash the incision area with warm, soapy water. Pat dry. Keep the incision clean and dry and change your bandage every day or leave uncovered if that was your instructions from your doctor. Call your doctor immediately if you have any of the follow symptoms, as they are indicators for infection or other serious conditions:

  • Fever
  • Excessive fluid, redness or swelling at the incision site
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sudden weight gain
  • Dizziness or fainting

Medications

Take pain medication and antibiotics exactly as directed. Do not take aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen or other anti-inflammatory medication without discussing first with your doctor or healthcare provider.

Additionally, your doctor may prescribe blood thinning medication (called anticoagulants) to prevent blood clots after surgery. Be sure to notify all your doctors, including your dentist, that you are on blood thinners as these drugs can lead to excessive bleeding. It's also important to let them know you have an artificial valve; they may prescribe antibiotics to take before certain procedures in order to avoid infection.

6 Weeks and Beyond

By six weeks, your wound should be roughly 80% healed. You should be strong enough to return to work and other normal activities, including driving and regular exercise. To keep your heart strong, try for 30 minutes of light aerobic activity, five days a week.

Talk to your doctor if you experience any signs of depression, trouble sleeping or loss of appetite. While mood swings, irritability and anxiety are all a normal part of the recovery process, feelings of isolation and despair might be a sign of something more serious.

Source: American Heart Association

The Heart Valve Center of Texas is a specialty outpatient setting within Outpatient Services providing comprehensive evaluation and treatment plans for patients with heart valve disease​. The Heart Valve Center of Texas offers a patient-focused, multidisciplinary program that combines medical quality with advanced technology to diagnose and treat heart valve disorders.

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