“How Long Does It Take My Heart To Heal?” Asks Carolyn
I just received a great question from Carolyn about ‘heart healing’ after valve repair or valve replacement surgery. In her email, Carolyn writes, “Adam – I’ve read a lot on your website about the time needed for the sternum to heal. But, what about the heart? After it’s stopped, opened, fixed and restarted, how long does it take for the cardiac muscle to heal? Thanks! Carolyn”
I wanted to provide Carolyn an expert opinion, so I contacted Dr. Luis Castro, the Medical Director of Sequoia Hospital Heart & Vascular Institute, in Redwood City, California.
During his 28-year career, Doctor Luis Castro has performed over 5,000 cardiac procedures of which 60% included valvular treatment.
During our exchange, Dr. Castro offered several insights about how our bodies heal after heart valve surgery. First, Dr. Castro compared the healing rate of the sternum to the healing rate of our cardiac muscle.
The consensus regarding the sternum/breast bone or any small or large incision involving the chest wall is 8 weeks for proper healing in most adults. Please remember… No heavy lifting during this period. The heart, however, is a bit different in that cardiac physiology has usually improved greatly after operation. There is more blood flow after surgery than existed many years prior to operation. And, the impact of valve stenosis, or valve leakage, has been rectified after proper valve repair or valve replacement. Overall, the heart muscle is in better shape and does not require a “healing” phase per say.
Dr. Castro then continued to share additional facts about the healing of our heart and lungs:
The heart is, nonetheless, prone to excitability and arrhythmia as a result of hormones (adrenaline) that circulate as a natural part of the healing process. Suture lines involving structures of the heart subjected to blood pressure may also be prone to abnormal stresses in the setting of over activity and elevated blood pressure. More common, the lungs that have been subjected to years of fluid overload will take time to heal. It is therefore recommended to ease back slowly into more vigorous activity over the course of a month or so… absolutely no reason to push hard on activity, as the entire body is in a recovery phase. There is plenty of time after a 2 month period of healing to get back into shape!
Thanks to Carolyn for her question and a special thanks to Dr. Castro for sharing his clinical experience and research with our patient and caregiver community!
- To watch an excellent video by Dr. Castro about heart valve replacement surgery, please click here.
Keep on tickin!
Adam Pick is a patient, author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery and the founder of HeartValveSurgery.com.