“Incision Site Or Full Body Shave?” Asks Shirley

I just received an interesting question from Shirley about hair removal prior to heart valve surgery.

Patient Body Shave  Before  Heart Surgery

Shirley writes, “Adam, I’m set for valve surgery next week due to severe mitral regurgitation as a result of a congenital prolapse. Yes, I’m nervous. Yes, I’m anxious. Quick question: I have heard that all of my body hair will be shaved (even below my waist) prior to surgery. Is that true? Shirley”

As I read Shirley’s question, an unforgettable pre-operative memory flooded my brain.

That memory revolves around my full-body, hair clipping just minutes before my aortic and pulmonary valve replacement surgery. (So you know, I had no warning my body hair would be trimmed. To make matters more uncomfortable, the electric clippers used to trim my hair was dull. Yes… Ouch!)

However, given Shirley’s question, let’s be very clear about something. These days, it is rare that a patient’s body is “shaven” using a traditional razor. According to the Texas Medical Association, more than 30 years of scientific evidence demonstrates that shaving surgical sites with a razor before surgery increases infection risks resulting from microscopic skin abrasions. That said, to better manage infection risk related to hair, electric clippers are used to remove hair from the patient’s body.

As to the question of “How much of my body hair will be removed?”, I remember having most of my body hair trimmed — even my pubic hair. (Robyn, my wife, just confirmed that.)

However, it appears that approach may be changing.


Dr. Junaid Khan – Heart Valve Surgeon

In discussing this topic with Dr. Junaid Khan, a leading heart surgeon at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley, California, he noted, “The data suggests shaving does not prevent infection. Rather, it can actually increase infection. So, patients should not be shaved. Our patients have their body hair safely removed at the incision site using battery-powered clippers.”

Dr. Eric Roselli, from The Cleveland Clinic, echoed Dr. Khan’s statement by stating, “We use clippers to remove hair primarily at the patient’s incision site.”

I hope this helps clarify select, pre-operative approaches by which body hair is trimmed to reduce infection risks during heart valve repair and heart valve replacement operations.

I am hopeful our readers – who are former patients – might help Shirley by answering the question, “How much of your body hair was removed prior to surgery?” Simply click here to leave a comment. (Or, scroll down to read 15+ 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.

  • Steve Griffith

    Just had my mitral and tricuspid valves repaired 3 weeks ago at the University of Michigan. They used clippers only (no shaving) to remove incision site chest hair. They also trimmed outside pubic hair and inside the legs from the groin to toes. They mentioned the leg trim was in case they had to take grafts for some reason (a reasonable precaution, I think).

  • Brian Arrington

    Shirley,

    I too was caught unaware. On the morning of my aortic valve replacement they shaved my entire body with an electric shaver. Certainly was surprised, but in the end it didn’t impact the result of the surgery.

    Lots of luck,

    Brian

  • Johan

    The night before the operation ALL my body hair were removed, legs, arms, chest, back, groin; yes everything! I am a very hairy guy and the 2 student nurses and I had lots of fun. In the end they lathered me in hair removal gel and I stood ankle deep in hair in the shower! Johan

  • Tony Korwin

    My surgery was May, 2009. At that time, I was under the impression that the entire body was shaved. However, they only shaved me above the waist and under the armpits. They did have to improvise a bit, because I have a lot of front body hair, like Robin Williams, and they needed to get a second tech in to “help” shave because of the timeline of getting me into surgery. LOL

  • Goodsport

    From the neck down to the toes in front only, plus the arms. Sept, 2007 Mass General Boston.

  • http://www.heart-valve-surgery.com Adam Pick

    Great comments everybody!

    Thanks for sharing your surgical experiences!!!

  • Duane Hunt

    At 4:00 in the morning on the day of my mitral valve repair surgery 1/28/10 at Florida Hospital Orlando, I will never forget being awakened with these words, “Mr. Hunt, my name is Ronald and I am here to clip you for surgery.” Using clippers (not shaving), he clipped virtually all my body hair–chest, legs, pubic. My underarm hair, arms (there had been some shaving before a cardiac cath IV the day before), and back were left alone. I was thankful Adam had prepared me for this with his book, but I too am hoping that was the only full monty full body have I’ll ever have to have!! I still don’t see the reason for all that. And with every cardiac test and cardiac rehab monitoring, the shaving continues!

  • marcelle

    I think you should just ask! Dr. Khan was my surgeon and the surgeon of several of my cardiac rehab buddies and we all were ‘minimally’ shaved – just a bit at the groin and for men some on the chest. Dr. Khan also does the most amazing minimally invasive incisions which limits the amount of hair removal.

  • Janet

    Shirley… Had mitral valve and tri-cusp repair… just did my own usual shaving for underarms and legs. They shaved very little elsewhere but prepped me to be able to wear a bikini… not a big deal at all.

  • Fran Zilko

    Had valve surgery at the Cleveland Clinic last month and the only shaving done was in my groin along the thigh, prior to my angiogram. This was done with a battery operated razor and there was no discomfort.

  • Patricia

    Being the wife of the patient, yes, my husband was completely shaved on the front prior to surgery in November 2009. Sequoia Hospital, CA. The results of the surgery for his replaced aortic valve, repaired mitral valve and Maze procedure have been very, very good. A small price to pay for such wonderful results.

  • Ricky P.Laufer

    Seven years plus ago/pre Mitro valve replacement…My pubic hair in a small area was shaved THAT’ was ALL…I am a female so nothing else was shaved.I also had to use heavy antibiotic soap at home for a few days prior to surgery.My Doctor was a conservative surgeon.Done in Colorado

  • Andrew Hightower

    ross procedure 5/1/2009
    I just checked with my wife to confirm and my chest was the only thing they shaved with eclectic razor. No underarms or pubic. In fact I remember my entire family watching.

  • Megan

    My husband was shaved from the neck to the groin however they were very insistent that he not do it him self since they do not shave tot he skin but rather trim the hair and if you shave it can cause worse infection due to ingrown hairs and nicks

  • Meigs

    I had shaved the usual places, and more around the bikini area than ususal. I did still get just a bit more clipped down there at the hospital before surgery- took only less than a minute- a perk of being a woman.
    Meigs

  • Dale P.

    I had my surgery in November of last year, and I’m not aware that anything was shaved — although the incision site probably was. I didn’t really see it right away, as it was covered up. But no other hair was missing, to my recollection.

  • Paul klaassen

    The only hair clipped on me before my sternotomy and aortic valve replacement (with concurrent Maze Procedure) was an area about eight inches wide and 14 inches long around the cut, and one small area on my wrist where an arterial tap went in. It was done with a disposable electric clipper, it was painless and, although it might have looked funny afterwards, it all grew back normally about as fast as the incision closed up. I think this is normal now. Best of luck and don’t worry, it really isn’t that bad. You’ll be up and about soon with a great story to tell.

  • Robin Hirsch

    I have a full beard before and after my aortic valve replacement. They shaved my chest but that was all. My son the doctor confirmed that it is not medically necessary to shave someone’s body for heart surgery.

  • Allen Browning III

    I had aortic valve replacement with the full 9″ cut down the center of my chest on 02/22/2010 at Hartford Hospital in CT. and they used an electric razzor to remove hare from my neck to my waste. I did have a couple of tubes that were a couple of inches below the bottom of the incision.

  • Eleanor

    Hi Shirley
    I had a mitral valve repair in February and was surprised that my chest, arms and my pubic hair were shaved with a disposable razor. Like Adam it was all so quick I didn’t have time to think. I don’t have a hairy chest so was glad that I’m not a man. Good luck with the operation.

  • George S

    I had AV replacement and ascending aorta with hemiarch replacement at Weill Cornell Medical Center, NYC on 1-28-10. They only shaved the center of my chest (maybe 3″ wide) and the upper abdomen where the chest tubes exited, while I was anesthetized. My surgeon said at that facility they don’t do major shaving now because in can be a site for the entry of microorganisms that may cause infection.

  • Richard Hoffman

    I had my aortic valve replaced at INOVA Fairfax Hospital 11/13/2008 the only hair removed was at the surgical sites. My left pectoral area and my right groin area. I entered the operating room at 0800, out of CCU at 2000, up walking at 0400 11/14/2008, moved to my room at 1200 and released to home at 1700 11/15/2008. This surgery was very uneventful compared to my triple by-pass which included going through the sternum.

    Thanks Adam for you book and the website….

    Richard Hoffman

  • Jamie

    How do hospitals make sure the electric clippers are hygienic? How do they clean them? I have a friend who has MRSA in his incision site from knee replacement.

  • Sheilah Plumley

    My husband Paul had aortic valve replacement surgery in France in February this year, and apart from the hair on his head he had a complete shave. Also recently he had a melanoma removed on his ankle which required a skin graft and again he had an almost complete body shave.

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