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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.