Undergoing Heart Valve Surgery: 6 Steps to Prepare for Recovery
Following heart valve surgery, you’ll likely go home with a list of dos and don’ts from your physician. Preparing for surgery beforehand will also help the recovery process go more smoothly and comfortably.
Cindy Wilson, Heart Valve Patient, Begins Her Recovery
More than 85,000 aortic valve replacements are performed on average in the United States each year, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. It’s a life changer, and prepping for the recovery process minimizes risks of short-term and long-term complications.
1. Incision Care
Keeping the incision infection-free is a top priority during the first weeks of recovery. Before surgery, ask a loved one to meet with your doctor to discuss how to care for the incision so you don’t have to do it yourself. Only soap and water should be used to cleanse the incision site. After washing, it should be gently patted dry to remove excess moisture. Johns Hopkins Medical Center notes the most common signs of infection as being redness, warmth, reopening of the incision, oozing pus, or fever.
Many patients in our community use the Incision Shield to minimize discomfort and protect the incision after surgery.
The Society of Thoracic Surgeons explains that patients’ primary complaints after heart valve surgery is difficulty sleeping. Establish a bedtime routine before surgery to train your body to relax and prepare for sleep. Listen to calming music, read a book, or drink non-caffeinated tea 30 minutes before bed to unwind. The Mayo Clinic also mentions how a comfortable mattress contributes to better sleep. Latex (solid foam) or memory foam mattresses from Macy’s are recommended to alleviate pain. Before surgery, test out your new mattress in the store. Keep in mind that you’ll have to sleep on your back because of the incision.
In addition, some patients choose to use recliners after cardiac surgery to aid in the recovery.
3. Physical Activity
Activity during recovery is recommended, but pace yourself. Before surgery, take care of any household chores, such as reorganization or major cleaning that you will be unable to perform afterward. Start slowly after surgery. Walk around the house for a minute or two at the time. As physical activity increases, ask a loved one to move around with you to help ensure you do not fall or injure yourself. Consult your doctor before returning to more intensive activity, such as jogging, swimming, or lifting weights.
During my recovery, I would walk all over my neighborhood. The longer I walked — with friends and family — the better I felt.
Most doctors recommend that patients avoid driving for 6 to 8 weeks after surgery. Before you head to the hospital, set up a car pool plan with friends or loved ones. Determine who will drive you to scheduled post-op appointments or assist with grocery shopping or making trips to the pharmacy. If you don’t have family who can help during your recovery, ask senior centers, your church, or a social worker at the hospital about transportation services in your area.
5. Emotional Changes
Cleveland Clinic reports that depression after heart surgery is a common side-effect that typically resolves itself within several months. Ask a loved one to be aware of signs of depression — lower mood, apathy, increased sleep, feelings of hopelessness, loss of interest in everyday activities, or suicidal thoughts. These feelings are normal effects of heart surgery, but ask your loved one to contact your doctor if symptoms significantly persist for more than three weeks post-surgery.
6. Plan To Attend A Cardiac Rehabilitation Program
One of my key tips for patients preparing for heart valve surgery is to sign-up for a cardiac rehabilitation program BEFORE the actual surgery. In my opinion, cardiac rehab is critical for patients.
Me At Cardiac Rehab (6 weeks after surgery)
Research suggests that cardiac rehab provides patients physical, emotional and social benefits following heart surgery. Unfortunately, cardiac rehab is often under-utilized by patients and under-referred by cardiologists and surgeons. You can learn more in this interview.
I hope this helped you learn more about the recovery from heart valve surgery. To leave a comment or add your recovery tips, 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.