Heart Valve Surgery Recovery and Follow Up

What to expect after heart valve surgery

The normal recovery time is usually four to eight weeks, and may be shorter after minimally invasive surgeries.

Immediately after surgery

People are usually practicing very basic self-care and are encouraged to get up, to breathe deeply, and to resume eating, drinking and walking as soon as possible after surgery.

Days and weeks following surgery

During this phase, people can expect to gradually regain energy and return to their normal activity level.

Hear from Allison, who shares her journey of recovering from heart valve repair surgery. Support from friends and family was key to her recovery, and she urges everyone to know the symptoms of heart disease and take action.

Allison: From My Heart to Yours: Valve Surgery Recovery Part 2

Surgery Checklist screenshot image(link opens in new window)(link opens in new window)

Surgery Recovery Checklist: English (PDF) | Spanish (PDF)

Follow-up care

You'll most likely be checked within four to six weeks following surgery for a postoperative visit. After that, it's critical to have regular check-ups by your heart specialist. Clarify with your health care provider what symptoms would warrant a phone call or an additional recheck. Whenever you have questions or concerns or if you experience any unusual symptoms or changes in your overall health, it never hurts to call and ask your provider.

Jen describes the recovery process after her heart valve replacement surgery. She was comforted by friends and family, and noticed soon after that she had more energy.

Jen's Story: Recovering from Heart Valve Surgery

How can diet and exercise help in my recovery?

Two important parts of recovery and continuing health are a good diet and a regular exercise routine.

If your doctor has recommended a particular diet, it's important that you follow it. If a special diet hasn't been recommended, balanced, heart-healthy nutrition can speed healing and lessen fatigue. Weight control is also important for your heart health; excess weight increases the heart's workload and slows recovery.

Nutrition: During recovery and beyond, make sure to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, breads, lean meats including fish and low-fat dairy products. Foods high in saturated fats, sugar and sodium should be limited. Avoid trans fat. And limit red and processed meats. In general, a low-fat, low-cholesterol, high-fiber diet is best. After a valve replacement, don't use supplemental calcium without approval from your health care provider.

Taking care of your body means watching what you put into it. Survivor Robert Epps talks about eating for a healthier heart:

A Patient's Perspective on Eating Healthier Food

Physical Activity: During your recovery, find out what pace is right for you as you work your way toward a physically active lifestyle. Under your provider's guidance, you should gradually build up your physical activity level. Before you begin a new strenuous activity, make sure it’s OK. Find out if you have any guidelines to follow concerning your heart rate or level of exertion. To improve overall cardiovascular health, follow a regular exercise program that includes at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity (such as brisk walking).

Print our handy pre-surgery checklist: Facing and Recovering from Major Surgery (PDF) | Spanish (PDF)

Heart Valve Disease Resources

Find out more about your heart valves and how to manage heart valve disease.