Lifestyle Tips After TAVR
When you have aortic stenosis, your doctor may tell you that it’s time for valve replacement. Aortic stenosis occurs when the valve on the aorta, which is the primary artery leading out of the heart, doesn’t function normally any longer. The valve is supposed to allow blood to flow from the heart to the body. But as we age, the aorta can begin to become thicker and stiffer. And when the valve stops working normally or the aortic valve opening narrows, it can force the heart to strain and work too hard to provide enough blood to the rest of the body.
The best solution is to replace that valve. Traditionally, open-heart surgery was the best option, but a newer minimally invasive procedure called transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) is now approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for anyone with severe, symptomatic aortic stenosis. Although initially TAVR was approved only for patients at intermediate and high risk of complications from open-heart surgery, it's now approved to treat those with a low risk, as well. TAVR requires less recovery time and most patients feel ready to return to normal activities in just a few days. However, it's still important to make healthy lifestyle choices after a TAVR procedure.
In the immediate days and weeks after TAVR, you’ll likely be occupied with taking care of your incision, attending follow-up visits, and taking it easy so you don’t overdo it and strain your heart.
But after a while, you’ll begin transitioning to the “new normal” of your life. And it can be a very full and satisfying life if you take a few important recommendations to heart. To accomplish that, cardiac rehab should be at the very top of your “Must Do” list after your procedure.
You will probably have some serious ground to cover to help build yourself back up. Under the careful guidance of professionals, you’ll spend about three months learning how to make some significant lifestyle changes that will reduce your chances of having heart problems in the future.
If you haven’t already switched to a heart-healthy diet, now’s the time. In fact, the American Heart Association says a good diet is one of your most effective weapons in fighting heart disease.
Here are some things you can do to insure you’re eating what your heart needs:
- Eat lots of fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, and nuts and legumes. As a bonus, you’ll get lots of healthy fiber from many of these foods.
- Drastically reduce the amount of saturated fat and trans fats you consume.
- Cut back on the sugar in your diet.
- Limit the amount of salt and sodium you’re consuming, which will help you avoid retaining excess water, which will in turn reduce your blood pressure and the wear-and-tear on your heart and blood vessels.
- Embrace lean meats like fish and poultry and low-fat or fat-free dairy products such as low-fat yogurt.
- Check with your doctor before taking any supplemental calcium.
Now that you know what to eat, it’s time to focus on the best way to shop for it. How to approach grocery shopping for your heart-healthy diet:
- Make a list—and stick to it.
- Don’t go to the store hungry. Eat a healthy snack beforehand, which will help you avoid the impulse to splurge on something you’re better off avoiding.
- Scrupulously read the labels on prepackaged foods so you know exactly what you’re getting—and you can avoid the bad stuff.
- Try to shop the perimeter of the grocery store, where they stock the healthier foods like produce and dairy. The prepackaged, processed foods tend to be grouped together in the center aisles.
- Check out your local farmer’s market for fresh, local produce.
When you leave the hospital after your procedure, your healthcare team may g you prescriptions for medications to take. Your doctor will want you to take a diuretic, or water pill, which will reduce the fluids in your body that tend to build up and cause strain on your cardiovascular system. You may also need to take aspirin or blood thinners.
- Continue to take your medication even if you feel better right away. That includes diuretics and other medications that you need to continue taking in order for them to provide the benefits. Take them as prescribed, but don’t hesitate to contact your doctor with questions.
- Request antibiotics prior to any medical or dental procedures. You definitely don’t want to develop an infection around your new heart valve. So anytime you’re going to be undergoing any type of procedure that might introduce any bacteria into your body, remind your doctor or dentist that you need to take a course of antibiotics. That includes dental procedures like getting a cavity filled or having a root canal, as well as a diagnostic procedure like a colonoscopy or cystoscopy.
One of the most important changes to your lifestyle you can make after TAVR is to stick to a regular exercise routine. But it’s absolutely critical that you don’t overdo it. You may be very fragile after your surgery, even after completing cardiac rehab. You don’t want to tax your heart, but you also don’t want to potentially injure other parts of your body. So it’s vital that you plan your exercise strategy with your doctor, taking into account your overall health and condition, as well as your heart.
Once you’re ready to get moving, you want to start slowly and build up. It’s fine to start with something easy and low-impact like walking for short distances. You can carefully build up your distance and eventually your speed over time.
Recovery from any heart procedure, even a minimally invasive one, will take time because of the conditions that necessitated the surgery. You may be feeling great and thanking your lucky stars that you went through with TAVR. But you still will need regular follow-up care on an ongoing basis. Keep in regular contact with your healthcare team to make sure you’re staying on track.
If you have any symptoms that cause you to worry, be sure to contact your cardiologist. It might be nothing but it’s probably a better idea to err on the side of caution. It’s also not uncommon to experience some feelings of depression after a major procedure. Talk to your doctor if you find yourself feeling down or despondent for no other discernable reason.