“When Will I Feel More Energetic & Less Tired After Heart Surgery?” Asks Joan

I just received a very interesting from Joan about being tired after heart surgery.

In her email, Joan writes, “I am now 7 weeks post-op and am tired all the time and have no energy.  I remember so many folks telling me that after my surgery I would feel so much better and have all this amazing energy. Well, as of now I do not feel as energetic as I did before surgery… by a long shot! I had no real symptoms prior to aortic valve replacement even though the valve was badly diseased.   Now, everything is a major effort and I get out of breath with the slightest exertion.  I have a feeling it may be caused by the metoprolol drug (the only prescription I take) and I do have a call into my cardiologist to see if I can lower the dosage. I am eating a high protein diet and get lots of rest and a nap every afternoon.  Do you know when I might be feeling more energetic?”

Woman Showing Tiredness

I — and many other patients in our community — can relate to Joan. Although each patient heals at different rates, it seems like many of us are lethargic, fatigued and tired after heart surgery. Personally, I remember feeling exhausted for the first ten weeks after my valve replacement surgery. I remember saying to Robyn, my wife, “I’m soooooooo tired. When will I feel like my old self again?”

To learn more about this issue, I contacted Dr. Salenger, Director of Valve Surgery at Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern, New York. So you know, Doctor Salenger has a specific clinical interest in post-operative care of heart valve replacement and heart valve repair patients.

Heart Surgeon - Dr. Rawn Salenger
Dr. Rawn Salenger – Heart Valve Surgeon

In his response to Joan, Dr. Salenger noted the following:

Hi Joan – Don’t get discouraged!  Everyone is an individual and people recover at different speeds.  It is not unusual to still be tired and lack energy at 7 weeks.  Some people take 12 weeks or longer to get over the surgery.  If you compare your energy levels on a  week-to-week basis, you should see some improvement.  If you are not improving as time goes on then there are some things for you and your doctor to think about. Your idea about the metoprolol is a good point.  Also, ask your cardiologist if any other medications could be a problem.  Especially focus on any medications that are new to you.  Your physician may also want to check a chest x-ray to make sure your lungs look okay, and evaluate your heart and valve function with an echocardiogram.  Most likely, however, you are on a normal post-operative trajectory and can feel confident you will be back in form, with more energy, over time. Hope this is helpful, Dr. Rawn Salenger

I hope this Joan (and perhaps you) learn more about being tired after heart surgery. Thanks to Dr. Salenger for sharing his clinical expertise with our community. To learn more about Doctor Salenger, click here.

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.

  • Larry Patton

    Hi Joan-

    It may take a long time, ??? months depending on how much your heart needs to recover. In my case it took 18 -20 months to regain stamina. I immediately felt better after the surgery, however I had no stamina. The stamina came back slowly. Some of the best advice from the surgeon at 6 months was, “enjoy your recovery”. Once I had this in mind, the recovery was much easier.

    LP

  • Cindy McGinn

    Hi Joan. Boy can I relate! I remember at 7 weeks after my aortic valve replacement getting the occasional ‘oh woe is me’ moments where I thought I would never be back to my old self. I went back to work at 12 weeks and was just then really feeling like my energy level had returned. I started Cardiac Rehab at around 9 weeks and some days I felt like I was too tired to do it but I always felt tons better after each session. Just hang in there and try not to get discouraged.

  • Fran Zilko

    Hi Joan
    Like you I didn’t feel too energetic, compounded by the fact that I couldn’t nap and wasn’t sleeping well. I had opted not to take the sleeping pill script I was given. I finally started checking my progress by the week, not by the day and learned I was improving and did have more energy. Be patient with yourself, your body has been through a lot of trauma. If you go to cardiac rehab you will also see a difference. Good luck.

  • Linda Sime

    Hi Joan,
    I’m on week nine recooping from aortic valve replacement. I find that I get more tired on days I’m super busy. (I keep myself busy to off-set any depression, which might be hanging around! No depression, but I do get tired now and then!) I am going to cardiac rehab. At first I thought I could not see any progress re tiredness and general physical well-being, but, I sure can see it now. So, per your doctor’s advice, I would suggest maybe enrolling in a three-month session. Good luck and take care.

  • Michael

    Linda, I too had an aortic valve replacement as well as a single by-pass but had thought I’d be able to get back to normal activities quickly. It took a little longer than I had thought but I’m pleasantly surprised at my current energy level and my stamina. Right now, I’m nine months past my surgery.

    I’m a senior citizen and a bicyclist. I should add that I only began bicycling in my early 60′s so I’m not one of those life long bicyclists. Following my surgery, I was placed on coumadin for three months following surgery and was warned not to ride my bicycle during that period. I’m also a mountain biker so the risk of falling and hitting my head on the ground was there.

    I went on my first road ride a couple of weeks after I was done with coumadin so that would have been maybe 14 or 15 weeks after my surgery. I managed to put in a decent 22 mile ride that day and noticed that my heart rate was consistently lower than it had been in the past. Stamina wasn\’t quite there and at times my legs felt a little shakey. In the end, it took me a little while to get back to my old form mainly because my legs were in terrible shape following those months of not riding; same with the lungs. Since then, I’m back to my old level and last weekend put in about 80 miles of cycling, not bad I think for someone in his early 70′s. Sometimes I think my respiratory system and all those creaking muscles had to get back into shape before I could go back to those longer and more intense bike rides.

    My energy level has come back, it took a little longer than I thought it would but I believe that even though I’m a bit older now, I’m a stronger cyclist than I was before surgery. Those first few weeks after surgery were pretty tiring but several people reminded me that my body took quite a beating going through the surgery and it takes a while to recuperate from that amount of trauma.

    Hang in there, it took a few more weeks to where I thought I was reasonably recuperated but after a few months, I felt that I was back to my pre-surgery riding level. Even more rewarding is the thought that having had my valve replacement, I might be able to get a lot more years of riding under my belt.

  • Kerrigan

    It was at least a year and after 12 weeks of intensive cardio rehab class that I started feeling a little better. But then it plateaued. When the tired feeling persisted I started looking at the medications. The Metroplol turned out to be what was really dragging me down. I asked why I needed to be taking it now and the cardio department said I really didn’t need to be taking so I went off it and things improved in a couple of weeks. Continuing with regular exercise was also very helpful.

  • Lynn

    HI,

    MAY 30TH OF 2012 WAS MY VALVE REPLACEMENT, STILL TIRED AND SHORT OF BREATH I.M 49 AND I FEEL LIKE I CAN DROP. I HAVE A HEART RATE OF 47 TO 55 AND THE MY DOCTOR DROPPED MY DOSE OF AMIODARONE HCL 200 MG TO JUST ONE A DAY NOT TWO. AND I AM STILL TAKING METOPROLOL 25 MG TWICE A DAY.

    ANY ANSWERED WOULD BE GREATFUL,I JUST SCARES ME WITH MY HEART BEAT THAT LOW.

    I LOVED YOUR BOOK IT REALLY HELP THROUGH THE START OF EVERYTHING,I GUESS I BETTER READ THE END A FEW MORE TIMES. THANKS, LYNN

  • Mike

    My surgery (mitral valve repair) was about eight weeks ago, and it’s only over the last week or so that I’ve felt like I have something like a normal level of energy. I’m back to something like my regular sleep patterns, make it through the day without needing a nap, etc.

    Actually, pre-surgery I would have called the way I feel right now “tired.” I suppose I’m back to about 80% of my pre-surgery energy level.

    For me, the first step was dealing with post-surgical anemia. I was really tired before they put me on iron supplements. Cardiac rehab has also been helpful. But mostly, I’ve tried to just look at week to week improvements, rather than worry too much about when I’d be back to where I was before.

  • MJ Samer

    I’m in my 60s and I’ve had two tricuspid valve replacements and recovery has been slower than I hoped after both of them — about 6 months before I was feeling close to being “my old self”. After the first T-valve replacement in Oct. 2009, I also was dealing with post surgical anemia and a couple of weeks after being released, I needed a transfusion and like the previous writer was put on iron supplements for awhile. That helped. Cardiac rehab also helped strengthen me and gave me confidence to exercise more at home.

    My heart valved failed for no apparent reason 2 years later (very unusual!) and I had a 2nd triscupid valve replacement done, this one via transcather in my neck. It was a very new procedure. I was the first patient at Northwestern Memorial Hospital to have what’s called a Melody valve in the tricuspid position.The valve is inside a stent inside the old, failed valve.It has been done on other valves, but still I was the first for the tricuspid at this hospital and few other hospital in the US were using this method. That was nicer for me recovery wise because I didn’t have open heart surgery, no breast bone to heal, etc. I was in the hospital for 4 days rather than 7. However, recovery was not perfect with that either. That was done in Jan.2012 and my pulse was often in the low 40′s and I felt light headed and dizzy some of the time, so in April they put in a pacemaker, and that’s helped a lot. When my pulse was so low I had no energy, now my pulse won’t fall lower than 60 and will go up to 120, so that’s helpful when I’m walking or riding my bike. My new valve, according to an echocardiogram done in July is working well, and I’m feeling better now, too.

    I go back and see my cardiologist at NMH in October and I think recovery is now on track. I try to remind myself that there is for me a “new normal” now and that helps me be less depressed about my progress. I do still get tired, have trouble sleeping and need to take naps. I think that’s all part of recovery, too, though.

    I would say to Joan:Hang in there. Recovery varies (see Adam’s Book — I looked at that so many times) and talk to your cardiologist about your concerns. You’re right, the meds you take can make a difference in how much energy you have, too. Like you, I got tired of people telling me to rest and enjoy recovery. That’s OK up to a point, but after that you want to be up again and doing things, and you will. It just takes small steps sometimes.

  • Kristen

    Hi Joan,

    I am 11 weeks post op from aortic valve replacement, I’m 45 and was very active prior to surgery and still get tired in the late afternoon. I went back to work three weeks ago, I’m a Physical Therapist Assistant, 20 hours a week, and I feel like I’m slowly getting less and less tired. The first week I was coming home right from work and taking a nap for a good hour, the second week I could stay up for awhile after work then I would nap from 3-4, this past week I have not been napping, just going to bed at my regular time and sleeping like a log!! I feel tired, but not that exhausted tired that I was feeling. I am also starting cardiac rehab next week, so I hope that doesn’t throw me into exhaustion again. All in all I do feel like I’m getting less tired, so there is hope for you! Give your body time to heal. Good luck!

  • Norman Briffa

    Hi Joan,
    Being tired is common after all surgeries including appendicectomy. It represents the body’s response to recovery after what is after all major trauma . As a cardiac surgeon, I always advise my patients that the full benefit of the surgery is not really felt for 3-6 months.

  • thiygarajan

    hi sir after three months heart mitral valve replacement i still have lung congession and wheesing .before surgeryim not a asthma patient when will my lungs function normally

  • jalane

    I had aortic valve replacement 10/18/11,I am very short of breath and very tired all the time and now they tell me I have a slight leak around the valve is that normal

  • Dave T

    Hi Joan,
    I had an AVR and an aortic aneurysm repair done on April 17th, 2012. I guess I was a textbook case as far as recovery goes. Once I hit the 3 month mark, that’s when I really started to notice a big improvement in my energy levels and stamina. I’ve just passed the 4 month mark and I feel 100% back to normal, I’m back to work on a full-time basis, and I’m performing all the physical activities I used to before surgery, including running, some weight training, and (when I’m feeling a little tired), just simple walking. Yes, during recovery I started to feel like I would never get back to normal, but as the weeks progressed, I started to see slight improvements, despite the ocassional physical setbacks that are a normal part of recovery. Give your body the time it needs to heal itself. You will soon see the light at the end of the tunnel. Best of Luck!

  • Mike

    I had an aortic valve replacement on 7/13/12. I started walking a mile a day. After one week, now up to 2 miles a day or riding my bike 45 minutes a day. I started cardiac rehab one month after the operation. I have so much energy and stamina now I cant believe it. Before I was so tired. I will turn 60 in September. I have not felt this good since the mid 1980s.

  • Lisa ward

    Hi im post op of aortic valve replacement i had surgery on 9 july 2012 , even tho i feel fine in myself i am only 31 years ols i went and did school run i could only did one way then i struglled , when will i have energy? I want to be normal mum to my 2 children, all i wanted to do is sleep, or lathargic. Because of this i have to rely on other people when it should be me doing it :-( feel like failure as parent as im finding it tired to do things with my children , how much longer am i gonna feel like this? ( crying)

  • John

    I am a year out after valve replacement surgery and although i feel a lot better I still get a full or bloated feeling in my chest when I start to work out but does go away . Here lately I’ll be sitting and get a sensation that’s hard to describe in the area where the valve is it feels like a flutter or like a gush that goes through and feels kind of funny , hard to describe !

  • Dianne Wright

    I had my mitral valve replaced with a titanium valve on 12-12-2011. I hadn’t felt good for almost a year prior; tired, short of breath, etc. An echo showed my valve was almost totally calcified shut, only getting 20 percent of the oxygen that I should have. I did rehab for about 14 sessions after surgery and back to my job at the bank on March 1st.
    This may have been too soon…. I decided to retire on May 18, I had turned 62 in January so took my social security. I still felt tired some days, not a lot of energy and wasn’t up to my normal pace! I don’t know how to relax or not do anything so this has been really hard for me. I am 10 months out from surgery and now feel “pretty good”, but now have a sore area to the left of my incision, right where I think the valve is. It’s like a sore, infection type of feeling – especially when I reach or bend a certain way? Anyone else had something like this? All my X-rays after surgery showed the breastbone was healed and no wires poking anywhere…debating whether to call and ask for MRI or X-ray to see if there is something wrong. Also have mild shortness of breath sporadically. I am embarassed to say I am a smoker, tried several times and ways to quit but haven’t yet…. 1/2 pack a day…

  • Kerrigan

    I had a pain in my lower left side for two years after having the aortic valve replaced. It got a lot better after I got a lumbar support for my car seat. Apparently some pressure kept it from getting better.

  • Micki

    Hi-I am 6 months out after having aortic valve replacement. I had a lot of complications following my surgery and had to have a Pacemaker 4 days after valve replacement due to complete heart block. Had my right lung collapse a day after Pacemaker surgery, have had infections in top of my incision for several weeks. Everyone recovers at a different pace and as my Dr told me- be patient with your recovery. I have always been an active person so it’s been hard to not be at 100% yet, but I know it’s right around the corner. Just taking a little longer to get around that curve! Hang in there and take the time to let your body heal. Don’t base it on others but on what your body is telling you. Micki

  • Phillip E

    Hi Joan,
    I am now at 13 weeks, recovering from open heart surgery, to repair Mitral valve regurgitation and close a congenital Ventral Septal Defect. The surgery went very well, and both procedures are a success.
    I went back to work, a medium stressful desk job, starting on my 7th week, and that wiped me out. I was pretty good walking for weeks 2-6, and had been doing some light exercise, but working all today was a game changer. Before the surgery, I only had severe, exhaustive symptoms, cardiac failure type systems for 1 month before the surgery, and had been impatient to get back to the previous level of vitality and stamina.
    Now at 13 weeks I look back and realize I have come along way, and I was only 60% recovered at that 7 week mark.
    Now, at 13 weeks, I can work and walk and exercise again, but it came on gradually. I have had some good days and some bad days but it did get better, still not 100% , but pretty close to it.
    Hang in there, pushing yourself everyday, while its frustrating, will allow you to gauge you progress.
    Good luck,
    Phil

  • Anita Rajaram

    Hi Joan,

    Just dont worry, you will feel fine very soon. My husband Raj underwent Mitral valve repair on 2 valves and an artery block 11 months ago and still feels tired. All the x-rays and ECGs show nothing wrong. He is back to his normal routine but the constant tiredness bothers him. Maybe once the medication is reduced he will feel fine. We were told by many friends that once surgery is over he will feel like a new man….but nothing like that happened. We are just hoping this phase will pass and all will be well.
    Wishing you all the best and hope you get back on track soon.

    Anita

  • Bob

    No problems or symptoms before surgery. A doctor thought he heard a heart murmor and sent me for echo. Sure enough aortic valve problem. Surgery was 9 weeks ago.
    I sleep 10 hours a day and think I could sleep 12 or 14. Had the 8 week EKG, Echo, and stress test. All were fine! They keep telling me I will sleep less in the future.

  • Julie

    Thank you all for your comments. Im due to have aortic valve replacement beginning of December this year. At 50 yrs old,i too work and am active. Its good to read upbuilding comments after your surgery,and just how its down to each individuals body as to the length of recovery! Julie

  • Joseph G.

    Hello, I am 63 years young, and on July 7, 2012, (approximately 18 months ago), I had my aortic valve replaced with a Bovine value. . I am still lacking the energy and stamina I once had. I am diabetic, asthmatic, have a hyperactive thyroid, and a few other conditions (all of which I take medication). I”m beginning to doubt if I will ever regain my energy and stamina.
    Please Adam or anyone with similar conditions share any advice, I would greatly appreciate any feedback.

    Thank You,

    Joseph

  • Phillip E

    Hi Joseph,
    I am now at 18 Months, after open heart surgery, to repair Mitral valve regurgitation and close a congenital Ventral Septal Defect. The surgery went very well, and both procedures are a success, I think I am finally used to the scar, but the chest cracked area still bothers me sometimes.
    At the 12 month mark, I looked back and realized it took an entire year to get back to my pre-surgery level of vitality and stamina. The doctor said the body loses it quickly and takes a long time to get it back. I walked my dogs everyday twice a day, and used 5 and 8 pound dumbbells for some muscle building.

    Now at 18 months I look back and realize I have come along way, and I was only90% recovered at that 12 Month mark.

    I know I do not have the conditions you listed, but hang in there, the best advice I got was from my doctor telling me it was OK to push myself everyday. It was frustrating, but I am still improving, and using the “exhausted mark” to gauge my progress.
    Good luck,
    Phil

  • Joseph G.

    Hi, Thanks for the last response…My next question is; 18 months after Aortic Valve Replacement, sometimes both feet turn somewhat blue, according to my wife.
    For many years I have had tiny (spider) varicose veins on both feet, with good color, . Could my Bovine aortic valve be causing this condition? What other conditions could be causing it?

    Thanks Joseph

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