Surgeon Q&A: Is It Safe for Patients with Heart Valve Disease to Exercise?
By Adam Pick on March 10, 2016
At the recent Heart Valve Summit, I received a great question from John about exercise and heart valve disease. John, who has a leaking heart valve, asked me, “Does exercise put me at risk?”
To answer John’s question, I was very lucky to interview Dr. Edward Savage from the Cleveland Clinic in Weston, Florida (which is close to Fort Lauderdale). So you know, Dr. Savage is a super nice guy who has successfully treated many patients in our community including Philip Lonigro, Lynda Minkowski and Robert Koch.
I hope this helped John (and perhaps you) learn more about exercise, heart valve disease and symptoms. Many thanks to John for his question and a special thanks goes out to Dr. Edward Savage for sharing his clinical experiences and research with our community!
Keep on tickin!
P.S. For the hearing impaired members of our community, I have posted a written transcript of my interview with Dr. Savage below.
Adam: Hi, everybody. It’s Adam with Heartvalvesurgery.com, and today we’re at the Heart Valve Summit in Chicago. See? Hi, everybody. It’s Adam with Heartvalvesurgery.com. Today we are at the Heart Valve Summit in Chicago, Illinois, and I am very happy to be joined by Dr. Edward Savage, who is a cardiac surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic in Weston, Florida, which is near Ft. Lauderdale. Dr. Savage, thanks for being here today.
Dr. Savage: Glad to be here.
Adam: Yeah, so we’ve got questions coming in from our Facebook page, and we’d like to ask you a question here from John who says, “I had my aortic valve replaced three years ago and was told after my last echo, the valve was leaking but not bad enough that I need to be operated on. I’m curious to know, does strenuous exercise put me at any risk?”
Dr. Savage: Well, again, if it’s a small leak, there’s no risk, and you can go ahead and exercise. I tell people who have some leaks, don’t bench press 400 pounds, but there aren’t too many people who bench press 400 pounds. Moderate to even vigorous exercise is okay as long as you’re not having symptoms. There is one exception to this, and this doesn’t really apply to John, but it applies to people who may have some other types of valvular heart disease and probably the most critical is aortic stenosis. If you have critical to severe aortic stenosis and you’ve been told that you need an operation, then you really should probably lay off strenuous exercise.
The other scenario, too, is if you have any symptoms associated with that exercise. Now, what are those symptoms? Well, if you exercise vigorously, we all get short of breath. That’s what we do when we stress-test people. We bring them to their maximum so they can’t go any further. So don’t go to that point, necessarily, in your exercise. If you have other types of symptoms that may be a little more related to bad outcomes in patients who have valvular heart disease, such as chest pain, chest tightness, syncope, which means fainting, or pre-syncope, which is sort of feeling like you have to faint, then you need to listen to your body. You can’t push yourself past those points.
In most scenarios in valvular heart disease, unless it’s severe and you don’t have symptoms – again, the exception being severe aortic stenosis – you can probably feel free to exercise.
Adam: Just so you know, Dr. Savage, you describe my situation perfectly. I had severe aortic stenosis. I had symptoms, and my doctor said, “Slow down on the exercise.
Dr. Savage: Right.
Adam: Thank you for sharing both before surgery and after surgery about exercise, and thanks for stopping by, Dr. Savage. Great having you.
Dr. Savage: Alright, I think you’re doing a great job for all the people out there with valvular heart disease.
Adam: Thanks so much.
Dr. Savage: And strongly endorse what you do.
Adam: Great, thank you.