“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.

  • Lisa S

    I had an aortic valve replacement and a CABG 5 weeks ago and I have a 2 inch area that is numb near the incision of my left breast but no numbness on the right side. Is this normal while the nerves heal?

  • Kathleen

    I’m 6 weeks post op and experiencing same pain and numbness in my chest and my groin. I also feel itchy all over like my nerves are jumping especiallly my scalp. Pins and needle feelings. My chest is still very numb and painful even to have clothing on it. Same for the groin area. Still a hard lump where the incision was and a numb pain that goes to my tailbone. To top it off I get a stabbing pain in my neck where they had two access ports. Hoping all this will clear up soon so I will be able to feel the effects of my surgerys success!

  • Robin Tolbert

    I had bicuspid aortic valve and slowed down my active life to the point I could not walk up slight hill. This led to aortic valve replacement and double bypass at VGH in Vancouver at 67.
    Immediately after in hospital I had numbness, pain from my right shoulder to right two fingers of right hand.
    It has now been 14 weeks since the op and my right side of hand is numb, in pain and hypersensitive. Right side if forearm also sore and shoulder. My hand also has very little power and right side tires easily. I am in cardio-rehab. I have tried pregablin but it is not helping.
    Any suggestions as it is difficult to sleep. Right now extremely painful.

  • Rick Thompson

    Wow this is really awesome. I had a heart attack on Oct 4th 2016. I had a double bypass surgery and a third artery that did not need to be replaced. Here it is 2 days before Christmas, and thank god I’m still here. I got a bed sore which is almost healed not complete yet. I can only sit or lay on my backside for a very short time. It has also kept me from the much needed exercise that I need, but my reason for commenting is that since the attack I have had numbness in my left hand, on my backside, and also in my chest. I still find it hard to cough and sneeze and sometimes have to use my heart pillow to ease the discomfort. It makes it hard to sleep and I have talked with the cardiac surgeon and he said everything should return to normal. Knowing that other people are experiencing the same kinds of symptoms and fears helps me a lot thank you all for input and letting me know I am not alone.

  • Bob

    Hello I had a heart surgery in April 2016 I had mitral valve cleaning and I still have the pain and numbness in my groin area and pain and numbness under my right arm and chest area it wakes me up in the middle of the night and my arm sends a shock down my arm and I been out of work for almost a year and I asked them if I can get disabled and they told me that I’m of age so go and retired.

  • nttim

    I had Mitral valve repair and a maze procedure done about 7 weeks ago. Now I feel a vibration that occurs off and on in the crotch area, left side only. Has anyone else experienced the same thing, I thought it was my cell phone vibrating in my pocket but it wasn’t.

  • Leslie

    My husband had his 2nd open heart surgery in August of 2011 for an aortic aneurysm. His 1st open heart surgery involved a valve replacement six years prior, which he fully recovered from. However, he has never recovered from the 2nd open heart surgery, but instead has complained from the first day of waking up from surgery of chronic nausea, bowel issues, tiredness, headaches, stomach pains and cramping, gas, and bloating. It is debilitating and he has not been able to work for over 4 years. His heart surgeon and his physician assistant dismissed his symptoms and complaints and said he would be fine and to go back to work. But he never did get better. So we went down a road to find an answer going from doctor to doctor (PCP to his cardio doctor to 3 different digestive doctors) and test to test and medicine to medicine only to not be able to find a resolution or relief for him. We feel strongly that something happened to him in surgery – nerve damage of some type – as before surgery, he never had any digestive issues. He has been on too many medicines to count that do no provide relief only to find out that we are in the same boat we were 5+ years ago. Nothing seems to work, and no one has a definitive answer. We are so frustrated, and he is not getting any better and his quality of life is diminishing. Any ideas on where or who we would turn to at this point?

  • Brenda Music

    I am 52 yr old female. I just had a L.A.D double bypass 4 days ago. They used a mammary artery for one of the grafts, the other from my thigh.
    My left breast is numb from the center of the breast to my sterum incision.
    This is, presently, 100% of the time it feels this way.
    I do have occasional tingles (flutter) in the palms of my hands, but nothing that is long lasting there.

  • David

    I had aortic valve replacement surgery Jan. 31, 2014. I have had terrible pain and discomfort on the left side of my back, neck and shoulder. After trying to find out what is wrong, I finally did yesterday. My neurologist told me My brachial plexus was damaged and I have Turner Syndrome and will never get better. I can’t hardly sleep. Even though I shouldn’t complain, I mean, if I can’t get any sleep,how am I going to recover? They don’t want to talk about that for some reason. I also suspect my vangus nerve was damaged also. I have lost the use of my left arm, not completely, but enough. I am trying to find out if they had my left arm bent back and tied down or something during the surgery. If you ask me, I think these Doctors have zero accountability and it’s not right. All I get is shoulder shrugs. Anyways, when I wake up and stretch, I feel this pull in my chest, then this pain that feels like someone is ripping my abdominal muscles out, can’t hardly breath and my face is hot and red. I get dizzy too. All I get is shoulder shrugs. God Bless everyone!

  • David

    P.S. I am still in a nursing home. I am 44 now. SUCKS!!!

  • Sanjay

    I had 3 heart stents placed in 2015 with no issues whatsoever. About a year later the same surgeon placed another one. After the second placement however, the moment I got home and stepped on the floor with bare feet I could tell my left foot felt the floor was much warmer than the right foot. I thought it was something that would just go away but it has now been almost 6 months after the placement and nothing has changed. Its almost as if the sensations in my left leg (not just foot) is reversed. Stepping into a shower the cold water pricks the left leg like thousands of blunt needles. Not panful… but so annoying! Even when something brushes up against it, it feels like the leg was bruised and something brushed up against it.
    I also have tingling (pins and needles?) in both arms almost every moring when I wake up, and my left hand middle finger all off a sudden has developed “trigger finger’. Just turned 50 and jeeze I’m falling apart! Anyone have anything like this after stent placement? I dont even know how better to describe it to a doctor…

  • Ethel L Farrell

    I had my open heart in 2004, Aortic Bicuspid . Titanium Valve. I have the most excrutiating pain since then. It comes and goes. Its a 10. The Drs. Put me on muscle relaxers. They figure its how I was layed on table that caused this. But It lasts anywhere from 1/2 hr. To an hour. Anyone else have this. Was told muscle spasms

  • jkmckin

    I had an aneurysm repair on 3/30/2017. I now have a paralyzed right hand and horrific nerve pain. I have had two months of occupational therapy with no improvement. My husband drives me everywhere, cooks our meals and does so many things I used to do that it is incredulous. I am an avid quilter who can no longer hold a pair of scissors. I can find no place that tells me how long to expect this to continue. This has really destroyed my life.

  • Jim Gilliland

    I had an operation for heart blockage a little over a month ago. I had 4 bypasses. I woke up in recovery with my right hand swollen and numb. My left hand , lower three fingers no feeling and it extends to my elbow. My hand is so weak I can’t open my medication bottles. They tell me the feeling will come back over time. The right hand is better but no change in left hand. Additionally, I am having problems with the skin peeling off on my feet and finger tips.

  • Bob

    Hello I had a mitral valve clean up and I was last year 2016 and I’m still going through pain and lot of nerve damage, the doctor also told me that it will take awhile for my nerves to come back and I’m also over a year already from the surgery I’ve been out of work since March of last year 2016 and I still can’t lift my arm up over my head and it’s been well over a year and nothing is the same I feel like a cripple and my soul call significant other Catholic blankets that person thought I was lying about the pain and everything else
    I’m only getting like a two to three and a half hours of sleep a night ever since I got home from the surgery sometimes I wake up in tears as of today I’m still in pain still waking up in the middle night and two the points I can’t take the pain no more

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