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What to expect after treatment

The normal recovery time after a heart valve surgery is usually four to eight weeks, and may be shorter after minimally invasive surgeries. To help you through the first weeks after treatment, why not look at our resources. These have been designed for patients, but will be useful for anyone supporting a patient after treatment.

Below is some brief information about what to expect and prepare for before you go in for treatment.

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

Days and weeks following your treatment
During this phase, people can expect to gradually regain energy and return to their normal activity level. After about 3 weeks you should be able to walk for about 10 minutes a few times a day, and by week 6 you should comfortably be able to walk for 30 minutes.

Follow-up care
You will most likely be checked within four to six weeks following surgery for a postoperative visit. After that, it is critical to get regular check-ups by a heart specialist or your GP. Clarify with your healthcare provide 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.

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.

  1. If your doctor has recommended a particular diet, it's important that you follow it. If a special diet has not 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 work of the heart and slows recovery.
  2. 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 that are high in saturated fats, sugar, salt, and sodium should be limited. Processed meats should be avoided. In general, a low-fat, low-cholesterol, high-fibre diet is best. After a valve replacement, do not use supplemental calcium without approval from your healthcare provider.

Your Recovery Pathway

You can help yourself by practicing habits for emotional health, setting positive goals, maintaining realistic expectations and celebrating progress.

Healthy Habits: Move Into A Routine
Exercise. One of the most reliable ways to keep your mood stable is to get moving. Exercise whenever your healthcare provider says you can, even you start out just shuffling down the hospital corridor. After surgery you don’t want to overdo it, but encouraging yourself to keep moving at a slow and steady rate will help you recover the right way. Many people find that keeping some sort of routine is very helpful for staying positive during recovery, too. Routines can include whatever keeps your spirits up, provided you have your healthcare providers’ okay.

Weigh yourself every day
Expect a little weight loss for about three weeks. If you gain more than five pounds, tell your doctor. You may be retaining fluid, which can be dangerous.

Positive Goals: Plan your Recovery
Often, before treatment, you mind will be anxious and pre-occupied with thoughts of the actual procedure. It is essential that you look beyond this, and plan for your recovery pathway. Speak with your family, and explain what activities you might need help with. You might like to arrange for a friend or family member who lives a distance away to come and see you 6 or 7 weeks after your surgery. This will be an incentive, and something to look forward to post-treatment.

Manage your Expectations and Celebrate your Small Milestones
Learn the facts before you have your surgical procedure so that you’ll know what to expect. The more you celebrate your small victories each day and notice the moments of gratitude, the more positive you will likely feel about your progress.