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What Can I Expect during Heart Valve Repair Recovery?

By Susan Abe
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

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.

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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