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What Can I Expect during Heart Valve Repair Recovery?

Recovering from heart valve repair is a journey toward renewed health. Initially, you may experience discomfort and fatigue, but with each passing day, strength returns. Your medical team will guide you through a tailored rehabilitation plan, ensuring a safe and effective recovery. Remember, patience and adherence to post-op instructions are key. How will your lifestyle adapt during this healing process? Continue reading to find out.
Susan Abe
Susan Abe

In the recent past, heart valve repair required the extensive procedures the public most often associates with an open heart surgery — an opened ribcage, time on a heart-lung machine, an extensive longitudinal sternal scar and multiple postoperative tubes — as this method was the surgeon's only available option to reach the heart valve in need of repair. Now, however, there are different options available to surgeons depending upon the patient's condition and the type of valve repair required. Some of these newer repair options are markedly less invasive and require less heart valve repair recovery time than the older procedures. Newer procedures — including aortic valvuloplasty, mini-thoracotomy, partial upper sternotomy, percutaneous mitral valvuloplasty and robotically-assisted endoscopic valve repair, among others — result in fewer intensive day stays, less postoperative equipment and fewer complications than traditional open heart procedures. There are, however, expectations common to any type of heart valve repair recovery, including pain and medical support, postoperative anesthesia recovery, and outpatient monitoring.

Postoperative pain is a common outcome of any heart valve repair recovery, whatever the degree of procedure complexity. Unless contraindicated by allergies, most patients will be provided with a patient-controlled anesthesia (PCA) intravenous (IV) pump to control pain and thus encourage deep breathing and early movement. Fluids and electrolytes will be replaced via IV and most patients will receive supplemental oxygen by nasal cannula to ensure adequate oxygenation. Patients will almost always have a urinary catheter in place for a day or two after surgery. Depending upon the type of heart valve repair recovery, patients may also have one or more chest tubes to drain fluid and air to exit the thoracic cavity.

Open heart surgery is commonly needed for heart valve repair.
Open heart surgery is commonly needed for heart valve repair.

In addition to postoperative pain, patients must also recover from surgical anesthesia during heart valve repair recovery. Although patients initially awaken in a recovery room an hour or so after surgery, the effects of anesthesia may linger for days. Especially when combined with postoperative pain medication, post-anesthesia patients will be frequently sleepy and doze often. They may experience some short-term memory loss or confusion. Weakness and fatigue may also occur as side effects.

In the past, heart valve repair almost always required a complete sternotomy.
In the past, heart valve repair almost always required a complete sternotomy.

Heart valve repair recovery continues after hospital discharge. Depending upon the patient's degree of support and his condition at discharge, home health care may be provided if necessary. Anticoagulants, or blood-thinning medication, may be prescribed and frequent monitoring by laboratory tests may be necessary to achieve the correct dosage. A patient must begin the exercise and dietary program prescribed by his doctor, as well as any necessary lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking.

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    • Open heart surgery is commonly needed for heart valve repair.
      By: prluka
      Open heart surgery is commonly needed for heart valve repair.
    • In the past, heart valve repair almost always required a complete sternotomy.
      By: Arkady Chubykin
      In the past, heart valve repair almost always required a complete sternotomy.
    • Understanding what takes place during heart surgery can help some patients deal with post-operative changes more easily.
      By: Matthew Cole
      Understanding what takes place during heart surgery can help some patients deal with post-operative changes more easily.
    • Most patients will have a urinary catheter in place for a few days after surgery.
      By: sudok1
      Most patients will have a urinary catheter in place for a few days after surgery.
    • In addition to sedating patients during the procedure, anesthesiologists ensure adequate pain management following heart valve repair.
      By: maska82
      In addition to sedating patients during the procedure, anesthesiologists ensure adequate pain management following heart valve repair.
    • Fluids and electrolytes are replaced via IV after heart valve surgery.
      By: WavebreakmediaMicro
      Fluids and electrolytes are replaced via IV after heart valve surgery.