The normal recovery period from heart surgery occurs during the first four to six weeks after the surgery. Typically during this time patients begin to restore muscle tone and return to normal levels of activity. The following information may be helpful for patients who have had their natural heart valves replaced or repaired with an artificial heart valve or annuloplasty device. This information has been provided to help you understand the heart surgery, the prosthesis, and life with the new heart valve prosthesis or about related medical care. Regular check-ups by a heart specialist are essential and you are encouraged to call or see your doctor whenever you have questions or concerns about your health, especially if you experience any unusual symptoms or changes in your overall health.
Diet and Exercise
Two important parts of recovery and continuing health are a good diet and a regular exercise program. If your doctor has recommended a special diet, it is important that it be followed; however, if a special diet has not been recommended, the information listed below can provide guidance to balanced eating which may speed healing and lessen fatigue. In addition, the practice of weight control is important in reducing the work of the heart even after recovery.
Balanced eating is necessary because no one food provides all the nutrients needed by the body; therefore, each day a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, breads, meats and dairy products should be eaten.
Foods that are high in saturated fats, sugar, salt, and sodium should be limited. In general, a low fat, low cholesterol, high fiber diet is best. Use of supplemental calcium should not be taken without approval from your doctor. To improve overall cardiovascular fitness, it is recommended that you combine a balanced diet with your doctor’s recommendations about exercise and weight control. Following a regular exercise program is an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Under your doctor’s guidance, you should gradually build up your exercise and activity level. Before you begin a new sports activity, check with your doctor.
It is important to carefully follow your doctor’s directions for taking medications, especially if an anticoagulant drug has been prescribed. This type of drug decreases the blood’s natural ability to clot or coagulate and is sometimes called a blood thinner. Those who take anticoagulant drugs need a prothrombin time test (commonly called a pro-time test) every two to four weeks. A pro-time test measures the level of certain clotting factors that indicate the blood’s ability to clot. This test result helps the doctor determine the amount of anticoagulant needed. The pro-time test should be done at the same lab every time because results may vary from one lab to another. It may take a while to establish the right dosage for each person, but consistency and working with your doctor are important. Home testing may be available, so check with your physician about this option.
While taking anticoagulants, it is important to avoid large amounts of foods high in vitamin K, such as leafy greens, since they may interfere with your anticoagulant. Alcohol may also alter its effect. Even simple over-the-counter drugs such as aspirin, laxatives, vitamins, and cough medications can change the anticoagulant’s effect by making it more or less active than usual. Consult your doctor before eating these foods or taking any of these drugs. Other things that may affect the body’s response to anticoagulants include irregular eating habits, crash dieting or binge eating, stress, significantly increased or reduced exercise, and travel. Try to find a routine of daily activities and then stay with this routine. Consult your doctor if you anticipate any major changes in your activities.
Notify your doctor IMMEDIATELY if you experience a momentary loss of consciousness or speech because it may mean that your anticoagulant dosage is too low. Again, notify your doctor IMMEDIATELY if you experience any of the following symptoms, which can indicate that your anticoagulant dosage is too high
- Bleeding from a cut that does not stop by itself
- Bleeding gums from brushing
- Red or black, tarry stools
- Any unusual symptoms such as pain, swelling, or discomfort
Serious complications, sometimes leading to reoperation or death, may be associated with heart valve surgery. As each patient case is different, the choice of procedure and device are dependent on many factors. Patients should discuss their particular case with their doctor to understand the risks, benefits, and possible complications that could occur.
Other Health Information
There are a few other things to consider to help maintain health. Before any dental work or surgery is done, tell your dentist or surgeon about your heart valve prosthesis. Patients with a valve implant are more susceptible to infections that could lead to future heart damage. Therefore, it may be necessary to take antibiotics before and after certain medical procedures to reduce the risk of infection.
Furthermore, when traveling for more than a few days, try to keep diet and exercise level as close to normal as possible. Be sure to discuss all your medicines (including over the counter medicines) with your doctor, and don’t change the dosage unless instructed to, even if you feel better.