“Nerve Damage After Heart Surgery?” Asks Sean

I just received a concerned email from Sean about nerve damage after heart surgery. I provided some thoughts for Sean below, but I’m curious to know if you experienced this heart surgery complication. Here is Sean’s story:

Hi, Adam!

I’m recovering from aortic valve and aortic root replacement surgery. It turned out my problems were congenital – a bicuspid aortic valve and a related aneurysm of the aortic root. My faulty valve and aneurysm waited patiently until I was 60-years old to need replacement! Nice of ‘em, huh?!

I am hoping you and your readers can provide some useful information, either scientific or anecdotal. I woke up in the ICU to notice that the left side of my left hand was “asleep” – you know, how your foot might “go to sleep” if you positioned your leg improperly for too long.

The condition has not changed in the 6 weeks since my surgery. My hand is still “asleep”, and it is thus both numb and hyper-sensitive to touch. My surgeon says it is damage to the ulnar nerve caused by compression of the nerves in my chest during surgery. The surgeon says that my hand should return to normal as the nerve regenerates over a few, perhaps six, months. I’d love to believe that, but I’m worried.

I plan to see a neurologist in a few weeks if I continue to see no improvement. Have any of your readers experienced this? Did it ever return to normal? How long did it take? Thanks! — Sean, Greensboro, North Carolina


Hi Sean,

You raise a really good question about nerve damage and heart surgery. I can relate to some of it but not all of it.

When I was going through my early recovery from an aortic valve replacement operation, I too had some numbness in my hands and feet – especially at night. I later learned the numbness was an effect of the Ibuprofen I had been taking. Here’s a prior blog about that topic:

However, your condition sounds very specific. My gut is telling me that you should listen to your doctor and follow his instructions going forward. You have to remember that your body is still “figuring itself out” after the severe trauma of heart surgery. Give it some more time and then see a neurologist if you continue to have issues.

To help you, I will post a blog about this topic to see if any of the other patients have ideas or thoughts for you. — Adam

To all former patients reading this… Did you experience any form of nerve damage after heart surgery. If so, would you please leave a comment for Sean detailing your situation and how/if you fixed it? Simply click here. In advance, thanks!

Scroll down to see over 200 patient comments!

Keep on tickin!

Adam Pick
Written by Adam Pick

Adam Pick is a patient, author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery and the founder of HeartValveSurgery.com.

To learn how Adam has helped millions of people with heart valve disease, watch Adam's video, subscribe to his free newsletter, or visit his Facebook, or Twitter pages.

  • Debbie

    I am 17 days post AVR, I was discharged only 4 days following my surgery and was told I had a good post operative recovery. I had been home about 5 days when I got a weird sensation like plans and needles in my left jaw, tounge and radiated up to my ear, I went very hot and must admit I panicked, it only lasted a few seconds then was gone, this has now happened 4 times and I am convinced that I am having TIA’s, I went to see my GP who felt my symptoms could be shock due to the surgery and I must allow my body time to heal, but each time it happens I feel that I am going to have a stroke! Has anyone else experienced anything similar?

  • Jay Craswell

    After can’t quad bypass I had numbness in parts of both legs and edema. My nurse friend suggested I ask doc any compression stockings. Really helps BTW. The surgeon said they really had to do some digging to harvest suitable veins. Anyway I believe they say if it doesn’t resolve in a year you will probably need to get used to it. My problems didn’t improve and its been three years. Just one additional if for wearing compression. It works great and you don’t have the issue of needing to run around to the bathroom all the time as with lasix.

  • Cordell Reiner

    I was a fulltime caregiver for my wife 7 yrs who had diabetes and alzheimers and she died oct. 30 2013. 4 days later I passed out and found I had severe aortic stenoses . they did a catheriason and then replaced a calcified aorita valve, a 4 bypass surgery and installed a pacemaker.. during surgery the heating pad on the leg they used for bypass blistered my right leg from the ankle to the knee 3rd degree burns. I am 4 months post surgery. I have nerve pain in blistered leg, a little numbness however and I am having trouble with my balance I have a tendency to fall over some times however I am able to recover most times. I have severe pain in the back of both knees when I try to squat .and then fall over on the floor, and have to get on all fours to get up. Is this all nerve pain and will it go away? My doctor says I am lucky to be alive Thank you all for listening.

  • Rodney Smith

    I was diagnosed with severe aortic stenoses in Jan 2012 and was operated on in April the same year for a calcified aortic valve, which was replaced by a tissue valve. Straight away after the operation I could write anything in my diary.My right hand and fingers were number and lacked any sensitivity. Now it April 2014 and the situation is still the same!! Being right handed this causes such frustration, not being able to carry out any tasks that require manual dexterity. I have bounced between cardiologists and neurologists without result. The current thinking is that something in my Braccia Plexis is damaged – perhaps permanently.

    I was told in April 2012 that it will sort itself out in 6 months but thats not been my experience.

  • walt

    I had an aordic dissection about 10 weeks ago that also included a blind bypass. I have the nerve damage that causes my right hand and fingers to tingle with the prickly sensation that often times makes my hand super sensitive. Both feet are also numb and tingly, thighs feel weak, and the left side of my torso tightens up as if I am wrapped in bubble wrap. I also have this sensation on my left thigh and knee. From reading the various post, I probably have a good year until I am fully recovered. But what matters is that we are alive and need to maintain a positive attitude as much as possible.

  • robert thurston

    I had aordic valve replacement and I too am experiencing numbness in the pinky and ring finger of my right hand. I was so happy to find this on my computor. I now have hope that it will be ok. Thank you for this information.

  • David Imler

    My heart valve repair was done on 12/5/13. I still have tingling in my two small fingers on my Left hand and in my Left foot. I was also told that this condition goes away in a few months.
    I have been trying all the strengthening therapy I can find squeezing things, stretching the ulnar nerve. My hand was so cold after surgery that I would wear a hospital glove on it. I have had some success my hand is not so cold and the strength is coming back. A very slow process. Any one know of any more exercises to speed this up? Thank you.

  • Walt

    Hi. I to have nerve damage after an aortic dissection repair on 27 Jan. It is now 29 May and I continue to have numbness and tingling in both of my feet/toes and right hand. The left side of my body is tight. The surgeon and doctors tell me it will take some time; though I am finding that I am becoming impatient. I try to take it one day at a time. I have not been back to work since the surgery. I sure hope this goes away soon…

  • Bob R

    My AVR surgery was in January of 2012. After surgery I often felt a coldness / pain from my shoulder to my fingers in my left arm. This sensation would last about 10 minutes when it occurred, and usually started during the first few minutes of beginning exercising, swimming, or playing tennis. I also had continuous mild numbness on the inside of my right thigh. Both of these conditions eased up over time, but even 2 1/2 years later are still somewhat noticeable. From what I have read on this site and others, nerve damage can take a long time to heal, and sometimes never goes away completely. But the discomfort you are feeling will most likely diminish over time. Try to be patient, and do as much as you can to keep busy. Taking your mind off of the pain is the best solution at this time. Avoid pain medications if at all possible, but if you need them, take only enough to diminish the pain.

  • kim dawkins

    I just had an adrenal gland mass removal on my left side near kidney… awoke to loss of feelings in my ring and pinkie finger on both sides … I have tingling sensation in hands… it’s horrible … I can;t grip… Hands were fine before surgery..this has been one week today June 9 th 2014 Please tell me this will go away … I want my hands back…

  • Darlene

    I had Mitral valve repair from a congenital defect on April 1st. My right leg where they made an incision in the groin is numb from the groin to the bottom of the knee. Its now mid July and the numbness has not resolved at all. I too was told in time it would come back. I am very concerned at this point and plan on calling my surgeon to see what might be done.

  • Jerry Evangelista

    I am post-op 3 weeks having undergone cabg X 4. Everything went well but the fingers on my left hand are numb with the index finger being the least and the other 3 fingers being the same. The thumb was not affected. The surgeon indicated this is probably due to the way I was positioned on the table. My grip is pretty good but its not quite the same as the right hand. I have an appointment with a hand surgeon in a few days because of an injury I sustained several months ago on my right wrist. I will inquire about the left fingers as well and get back to you about the prognosis as soon as I find out.

  • Alan Zeeman

    I had an aortic valve replacement in June 2014 (Panorama hospital, Cape Town) and have had infrequent numbness in my right thumb and right cheek. The feeling only lasts for a short while but I can feel when it starts. Is this nerve damage from the op?

  • tom

    I had the exact same aortic procedure, with the exact same numbness that led to pain and now 5 months later with occupational therapy, I have improved dexterity and half the strength back in my right hand. But numbness in two fingers and right side of right hand are still numb.
    The surgeon says it will get better and my quack neurologists , says he dosent know if it will ever get any better.
    Being a chef its time to go back to work with questionable strength and numbness in my dominate hand.
    Who do I go see next for a diffenative answer???

  • Joe C

    Find a Chiropractor who practices Grastin …It helps

  • Ron Williams

    I’m 5 years (04/26/2009) AVR and today I was unable to barely even begin a cranial MRI for symptoms in my upper left temporal region. The problem stems from a continuing unresolved travelling pain from my neck to my wrist on my left side that began when I awoke from my heart procedure anesthesia and completely unrelated to the type and occasion of pain that I had hope to be tested for. I am now going to jump through a dozen hoops so I can get the MRI with an anesthesiologist at work. If my head explodes tomorrow, so it goes…

  • Eric A

    I am currently in the middle of two main surgeries to fix an aneurysm that includes the left subclavian base and the descending aortic arch, some thoracic aorta, and a pseudocoarctation of the aorta just below said aneurysm.

    4 weeks ago my surgeon did a bypass of the left subclavian to the carotid artery to make the other, much more serious replacement of the aneurysm/pseudocoarctation with a dacron sleeve safer. Unfortunately i had complications with that surgery and ended up with an emergency surgery as I had a vein break loose and they had to go back in to stop the bleeder.

    After the first surgery I woke up with my left hand numb, useless and has increasingly become more painful and hypersensitive. At times it gets to a pain level between 7 – 8 and I have a high pain tolerance! I have noticed that wrapping my fingers, not too tightly, helps the pain somewhat. DO NOT do ice! heat on the wrist & hand seem to help along with tight gloves to both provide pressure and to protect from over stimulation.

    I would LOVE to know how long it takes for at least the hypersensitivity and pain to subside?!? right now its efecting my sleep and my usefulness around the house. Thank you!

  • Tom DeSmet

    I had quad bypass surgery in early Sept. For the first 72hrs following surgery I was not able to move the fingers on my left hand. Within a few more days I was able to move them OK, but my hand and forearm were numb. About a week later I noticed that the numbness had changed. Now the numbness has changed to a feeling that my hand and forearm have 2nd degree burns when I touch it or even brush up against it. The Drs suggest that it is due to “positional (something)” during surgery and haven’t really said whether it will get better or not. It is now winter weather and it is driving me insane to wear my winter coat as it irritates my hand constantly.I hope it will improve from this point. I guess I should be happy I can at least move my fingers, even if I have pain!

  • Janice Smith

    I had AVR and aneurysm surgery September 9, 2014, and since the surgery I have had hand tremors that come and go. It is becoming extremely distressing along with the ocular vision problems I have now also. Anyone else have this happened? I also lost my voice after surgery and it is not back fully yet.

  • Gary

    I had a bicuspid aortic valve and an aneurysm on the aorta had valve replacement and aorta repaired at Cleveland Clinic back in August . I am thru with rehab and feel fine but I have a numbness in my right thigh and a rash on it . It is encouraging to know that hopefully this will hopefully go away in a few months . Its been suggested that I see a Neurosurgeon but I have yet to do that .

  • Jackie

    I had an Anomolous Right Coronary Artery that arose from the left pulmonary sinus repaired three weeks ago. My hand and arm are doing the same thing. I woke up in ICU and it was numb. I can feel light sensation on my skin but I can’t feel anything when I try to grip something, I have dropped countless glasses of water, I can’t feel when I’m holding something either. Also holding eating utensils; like trying to cut meat is very difficult. Does this get better? I feel like I’m going crazy! Also my right shoulder blade has had excruciating pain that doesn’t ease up. Massage and ice alternating with heating pad relieves it temporarily but as soon as it’s removed it hurts again.

  • Dianne Starkey

    My 12 yr old daughter had a partial AVSD repair( hole in upper and lower chambers) as well as a valve stitched in August 2014.

    She now has little strength in her hands. She cannot undo bottle lids, her hand shake is very weak.

    I’m wondering what the problem is. Her cardiac specialist is keeping an eye on it but he doesn’t know the cause. It’s the first case he has seen like this.

  • Susan Parrett

    It has been 28 months since I had open heart surgery to replace my Aortic valve with a tissue valve. For 10 days after surgery, my discharge was delayed due to very bad swelling in both feet.I was finally allowed to go home.After a few weeks, my feet hurt terribly & my toes turned black after being hot, red & swollen. Uninsured at that time, I was being treated at a free clinic, so there weren’t many tests done.Eventually, the black discoloration faded & I was able to peel most of the black skin off. Now, a few months later, the pain is bad again (never having fully disappeared) & my toes are starting to blacken again. My new Dr. is not too concerned about it, so I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one.

  • Tony Morra

    I have had weakness and numbness in my left arm for 3 years since my bypass surgery and it has never recovered like I hoped. What can be done?

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