“Anxiety After Aortic Valve Replacement Surgery?” Asks Rochelle

By Adam Pick on March 4, 2009

Managing anxiety before heart surgery can be quite challenging for patients and their caregivers. However, Rochelle just asked me an interesting question about dealing with anxiety after heart surgery. Here is what she writes:

“Adam – I had aortic valve surgery 4 months ago. Everything went well but I am suffering from anxiety. I have been taking Ativan… one milligram. I also go to cardiac rehab once a week. My question is, “How many patients suffer from anxiety after heart surgery? Does it ever stop? Thank you, Rochelle (P.S. Your book has helped me alot!)”

Here is my response to Rochelle:

Like you, I also suffer a bit from anxiety. However, I don’t think my anxiety increased after heart valve surgery. To counter the anxiety, I do my best to exercise, to write and to share any anxious thoughts with those around me.

After surgery, I also entered individual counseling. While some patients enjoy support groups, like Mended Hearts, I chose a more personal setting to enhance my mental well-being following the challenges of my recovery.

So you know, I’m not the only patient to seek therapy following heart surgery. In a 2007 study, 9% of patients acknowledged that they saw a therapist post-operation to help with the emotional and behavioral changes after cardiac surgery. From experience, I can tell you that therapy really helped with my anxiety and sleep issues.

Here’s the funny part… It was my brilliant therapist who suggested I write a book and blog about my heart valve surgery journey to help future patient and caregivers. Without her thought, you would not be reading this right now.

I hope this helps you better understand anxiety relative to heart surgery.

Keep on tickin!

Written by Adam Pick
- Patient & Website Founder

Adam Pick, Heart Valve Patient Advocate

Adam Pick is a heart valve patient and author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery. In 2006, Adam founded HeartValveSurgery.com to educate and empower patients. This award-winning website has helped over 10 million people fight heart valve disease. Adam has been featured by the American Heart Association and Medical News Today.

Adam Pick is a heart valve patient and author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery. In 2006, Adam founded HeartValveSurgery.com to educate and empower patients. This award-winning website has helped over 10 million people fight heart valve disease. Adam has been featured by the American Heart Association and Medical News Today.

Paul says on March 4th, 2009 at 2:41 pm

Adam – Thank you for your book and your continuing insight.
Rochelle – You are not alone – I had aortic valve replacement surgery Nov 2008, and I too am suffering anxiety.

Post surgery – I was able to stay with family in a city where I was in cardiac rehab for about one month, 3 times per week – that helped.

I have since returned home – where medical care is minimal and there are no programs for cardiac rehab.

I believe my anxiety – esp. when in a crowd – is lessening. My physician tells me I am doing fine (I’m not) and suggests I walk. I am not taking Ativan.

Rochelle – thank you – your comments took me by surprise and actually shook me up a bit – now realize that I had better get some counseling.
Thanks Adam for the writing the book and the blog.


Kerrigan says on March 4th, 2009 at 2:48 pm

I certainly emphatize with what you are feeling. I’m in the end of week six since having the aortic valve replace along with the ascending arota. There are times when I have anxiety about the new valve and “is it going to be alright?” or “will I do something to hurt myself without realizing it?”
Talking to a sympathetic ear, like a councilor or therapist, is helpful, but the biggest help to me was enrolling in a cardio-rehab program.
It is a 3-times a week 1-hour session at a local hospital in a work-out room staffed with nurses familiar with cardiac event patients. They hook up a heart monitor, take blood pressure readings, etc., while you follow a program of exercise designed to make you stronger. It has given me confidence that I can build myself back up without endangering myself.
As to the valve, well … one just has to have SOME faith that the manufacturer built a good one for ya!
The post-operative visits to the cardiologist office also help. When you get your baseline ECG and the cardiologist says “the valve is working great and your flow is great!” it gets you to the point of accepting that you are going to be OK.

Barbara says on March 4th, 2009 at 4:57 pm

I am now 8 weeks post-op having had my aortic valve replaced and repair of the aortic root. I found that my anxiety following the surgery was worse than prior to the surgery, especially during the 3rd and 4th weeks post-op. I never expected the back pain, headaches, and also erratic heartbeat. I am now feeling much better, although am having problems with fluid on my lung. I too feel anxious hoping that my valve will continue to work well. I have had my follow-up visits with my family doctor, cardiologist and with my surgeon next week. I am wondering how I will feel once I am not requiring these appointments on a regular basis. It helps to have a medical professional tell you that you are doing well. I have not enrolled in a cardiac rehab program, but after reading the comments here, I am reconsidering and will definitely look into it.

Adam: I found your book extremely helpful and your continuing email – thank you.

"Sarah Hester says on March 4th, 2009 at 9:35 pm

I just celebrated 6 months from my aortic valve replacement surgery, and I can’t speak highly enough for cardiac rehab! I was on the phone as soon as I got home from the hospital to find out when I could start, and I looked forward to every session. I was lucky that my insurance covered cardiac rehab three times a week for 12 weeks. And I did every single one. It was so reassuring to exercise as hard as I wanted and know that all my vitals were being monitored. I also felt good knowing that the nurses could answer questions about any pain or discomfort I was feeling. It was also great to get those “WAY TO GO” high fives from the staff when they saw how hard I was working. It was also super to share insights with fellow patients. I think that goes a long, long way to alleviate anxiety.

Alex Lang says on March 5th, 2009 at 11:16 am

Rochelle, I have to agree with Sarah, the cardiac rehab is the miracle worker. I faithfully attended 20 sessions followed by 10 sessions in a controlled gym environment.
Apart from the physical benefit in building strength and confidence, the general chit chat and banter between fellow post-surgery comrades, and staff, was a great uplifting experience. To freely talk with others who have been through it, to share experiences and those concerns that we all have, no matter how big or small, is a cure in itself. It is amazing how such a major. life-saving procedure can produce countless laughs and smiles. Sharing openly is a great healer! Stress and anxiety was a common factor. It is par for the course. We have all been through major surgery at various degrees. To have no concerns would not be normal.
I now continue with my exercise regularly, visiting the gym no less than twice a week. Fitness is a must. The feel good factor follows.
Does the anxiety stop?
It certainly eases with time, and can be handled and controlled once you accept that it is part of the recovery process. Anxiety is a part of life, whether after surgery or not, and it is better shared than bottled up.
This is where Adam’s blog scores 5 stars. It lets us all share together.
Keep fit, keep smiling – life is great.

Lou Ann Marler says on March 6th, 2009 at 11:32 am

Hi Rochelle, I too just had valve surgery, and I do feel some anxiety myself. It will get better, I agree if you can talk to someone it helps, but you can also take deep breaths and think positive thoughts and that helps too. When you think about it its amazing how your heart can be fixed. I too have benifited from Adams book. Your going to do fine, Hang in there.

Lexie Armitage says on March 6th, 2009 at 4:41 pm

Well, heart valve anxiety is not just for the patient. As the girl friend that went through the experience with my guy, I was a mess…before and after. Before , I wasn’t convinced the doctors would do the surgery in time and Curt was going downhill rapidly. I was afraid to leave his side. After, there were complications with the meds which were causing fainting, and 5 more days in ICU with a head injury. I woke in the night so many times to listen for breathing! I was exhausted with worry and had bad anxiety. Often, I had to hide it becauseit seemed like curt had been through enough already. I started worrying about my own heart. finally, one night when I couldn’t sleep, I went to the Internet and read about “Post traumatic stress syndrome”. it described me perfectly. somehow, just knowing my reaction was normal, it helped the anxiety go away. I don’t think I’ll ever be as relaxed as Curt himself! It is hard to nearly lose someone you love.

rochelle hammer says on March 7th, 2009 at 6:34 pm


jeff stoveken says on March 22nd, 2009 at 4:36 pm

i think anxiety is a normal by-product of heart surgery. fortuately i was ok after my surgery.it was my wife who had a rough time with that.its easy for us as heart valve surgery survivors to be relieved that we are still alive while our caregivers are still dealing with why it all happened and will something else as serious happen in the near future ! as time moves on and we put it all behind us, i think everyone realizes its been a successful story,as opposed to how it couldve gone if technology and surgeons werent as advanced as they are now! think about having this done a few decades ago. jeffstoveken@yahoo.com feel free to email with any questions or comments !

ros says on April 17th, 2012 at 10:51 am

6 months on and I have healed well from AVR. I am doing really well however its time for me to go back to my high stress job in a few days. I am concerned because I seem to now have a quick overload point to unpleasant situations. I don’t plan to feel overwhelmed – I a just am. I realise there a ways to control this but I think I’d really like to hear there is a time when I’ll “man up” to the world again.

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