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How to Prepare for Heart Valve Surgery


Jordan Rocksmith

A heart is something you never really notice, and unfortunately on occasion a problem will occur within your heart that you don’t notice as well. Some problems are tricky and only show up on routine checkups, while others you may notice but either ignore or don’t get checked out. These problems should never be ignored because they could cost you time, pain, or even your life. Heart valve disease isn’t the most common heart disease, but it can happen. A faulty valve may not open completely or may not shut properly. When this happens, the blood can’t flow properly through the heart and out to the rest of the body. The only way to fully fix this problem is to perform heart valve surgery.

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Surgical Basics

The best way to prepare for a surgery is to know what to expect. Any kind of surgery can be daunting and scary, but heart surgery seems to carry more of a weight than others. During heart surgery, the chest cavity is opened and the heart is exposed. Patients will be hooked up to a heart-lung machine which will allow the blood flow to bypass the heart completely. This prevents the heart from beating, which allows the surgeon to perform surgery much easier. Depending on the damage to the valve, the surgeon will either repair the existing valve or replace it with an artificial valve. This can only generally be decided once the surgery has begun, so your doctor should have the conversation with you regarding each option before the surgery ever begins. For a repair, the valve will have a ring sewn around the opening to help tighten it. Other parts of the valve may be altered to help ensure proper opening and shutting. If the damage to the valve is too expansive, an artificial valve will be inserted. There are mechanical valves or biological valves available, and again your doctor will discuss the options with you prior to surgery. The mechanical valve is created from man-made materials and will require lifetime use of anticoagulants. Biological valves are taken from pigs, cows, or human donors. These valves won’t last as long as the mechanical option but anticoagulant therapy is rarely needed. Once the valve is replaced, the incisions are all closed and you will be taken into recovery.

Before and After

Before surgery, you will need to change a few aspects of your daily life. If you smoke, you should quit. Smoking can not only affect your heart but can also cause problems with anesthesia. A heart healthy diet should be started as soon as possible. You need to take care of the rest of your heart the best you can both before and after the surgery. Some people recommend an exercise regimen prior to surgery as well as after, but you should only do this with the permission of your doctor. After surgery, you will wake up in post-operative recovery. Most likely there will be pain and confusion, but there will also be plenty of nurses there to help you and explain what is going to happen. You will most likely spend at least 1 night in the intensive care unit followed by more nights on the cardiac floor. The incisions and bones will take about six weeks to fully heal. You will need to be very careful during this period. Total recovery time for heart valve surgery is expected to take several months. Once given the okay by your doctor, you will need to exercise, eat healthy, and take overall good care of yourself to ensure that you won’t have to go back under the knife.NYU Langone

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How to Prepare for Heart Valve Surgery