What can I expect immediately after heart valve surgery?

Immediately after the surgery you will be taken to the intensive care unit (ICU). Functions of your heart and other vital organs will be monitored by special equipment. A nurse will be responsible for monitoring your progress. You will wake up from the anesthesia in approximately one or two hours. For some people it takes more. There will be a breathing tube in your mouth because the function of your lungs needs support following the operation, which is usually taken out in a few hours. Besides the tube there will be wires attached to your body connected to the special equipments monitoring/ supporting the function of your vital organs. You will also have bandages covering the incision from the operation.  There will be some element of discomfort and stiffness.

Your heart has four valves that regulate blood flow through the heart and make sure that it travels in one direction only - your heart is a series of “one-way streets” in a manner of speaking. If blood flows backward through the heart or if the valve has narrowed and will not allow enough blood to pass through, it can sometimes lead to serious complications.

To correct a valve that has a narrowed opening or that is leaking, you may need to undergo surgery for valve replacement or repair. Once the surgery is complete, attention will turn immediately to your recovery.

Your recovery in the hospital may last from four to 10 days, depending on your condition. You may spend the first days after surgery in an intensive care unit (ICU) where your heart will be closely monitored.

While in the ICU, you may have a number of tubes in your body to help recovery, including a tube to help you breathe, a tube to drain fluids from the stomach while you are not eating, tubes to drain fluid from your chest, a small tube to empty your bladder and a line into your arm to measure blood pressure. These will be removed when you are moved from the ICU to another care unit.

You will receive therapy to prevent complications such as pneumonia, collapsed lung or infection. A nurse or therapist may lead you in deep breathing exercises and coughing and encourage you to move your legs to lower the chance of blood clot formation. Your therapy may also include gentle patting on the back to loosen fluids in the lungs.

Physical therapy will also be part of the recovery process. In the hospital, you will be encouraged to walk around and shown how to move your arms without hurting your breastbone. Before going home, you will also learn how to do daily activities in ways that will not interfere with the healing process.

Continue Learning about Heart Surgeries

Heart Surgeries

Heart Surgeries

More than a half million surgeries are done each year to correct heart problems in children and adults. One of the most common types of heart surgery performed is coronary artery bypass grafting, which uses a blood vessel taken fr...

om another part of the body to bypass a blocked artery and help prevent a heart attack. Another is heart valve replacement, used to repair heart valves that don't open and close properly. Heart surgery can be minimally invasive, such as when a small incision is made to the chest to insert a pacemaker. At the other extreme is open-heart surgery, which requires a large incision to the chest to open the rib cage and operate on the heart. Learn more about the different kinds of heart surgeries with expert advice from Sharecare.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.