Recovery After Mitral Valve Surgery: What to Expect
Mitral valve surgery addresses defects in the valve that regulates blood flow in the upper and lower chambers on the left side of your heart. How long it takes you to recover depends on several factors, including what kind of mitral valve procedure you have and your general health.
Here’s what to know about recovery from mitral valve surgery, which can reduce the chance of heart failure or stroke as well as other serious complications, and restore your energy and ability to go about your daily life.
Recovery After Mitral Valve Repair
Most mitral valve surgeries repair rather than replace the valve by making it close more tightly so you do not have mitral regurgitation, when blood leaks from one chamber to another. In some people, the valve has become stiff or narrow, and surgeons can widen it so it works more efficiently.
Generally, a mitral valve repair requires open heart surgery, which is an extensive procedure. Some people may be candidates for a less invasive procedure, using smaller incisions, which generally has a quicker recovery.
In most people, recovery ranges from 4 to 8 weeks. After surgery, you’ll be closely monitored for a few days in the hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU). You can receive pain medication to alleviate discomfort from the incision and other pains you may have in your chest or upper body because of the operation. You’ll be asked to cough to clear your lungs, which may also be uncomfortable. These symptoms will improve in the weeks after the operation.
When you are ready to go home, you will be given instructions on what to do and what not to do. Refrain from lifting heavy objects or overexerting your upper body, and follow your doctor’s advice on the amount of exercise you can do to start to rebuild your strength. You may notice that you tire easily, but after several weeks, you should start to feel better. If you had fatigue or shortness of breath before your operation, they should diminish.
Your doctor may also suggest cardiac rehabilitation, which includes working with a dietician and physical therapist to optimize your recovery. You can begin to return to normal activities as advised by your cardiologist.
Recovery After Mitral Valve Replacement
Some people need a valve replacement rather than repair. Even if you require a replacement valve, your heart function should be much improved after you recover from surgery, unless other health factors are involved. Recovery from valve replacement is similar to that of valve repair: several days in the ICU, followed by a gradual increase in activity as directed by your doctor when you return home. You may receive a valve made from biological tissue (from a pig or cow heart) or a mechanical valve. A tissue valve can last as long as 15 years, and a mechanical valve as long as 25 years. Either way, you should be able to resume most of your normal activities after about 6 to 8 weeks.
If you have a mechanical valve, you will need to take blood thinners on an ongoing basis to avoid developing blood clots in your heart. You may hear a clicking sound, which is normal. It’s important that you follow your doctor’s guidance on monitoring your heart function following the procedure.
If you had symptoms before your mitral valve surgery, such as fatigue or shortness of breath, you may feel better very quickly after the operation. Even if it takes a little while to feel better, mitral valve surgery is a common procedure with a high success rate and, in many cases, can get you back to your regular routine.