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What to expect after treatment

The normal recovery time after a heart valve surgery is usually 4 to 8 weeks, and may be shorter after minimally invasive surgeries. To help you through the first weeks after treatment, why not look at our Post-treatment Pathway & Milestones sheet. Below is some brief information about what to expect and prepare for before you go in for treatment.

Immediately after treatment
Immediately after treatment for heart valve disease, 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 4 to 6 weeks following treatment 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 provider what symptoms would warrant a phone call or an additional re-check. Whenever you have concerns, or if you experience any unusual symptoms and changes in your overall health, it never hurts to call and ask.

How can diet and exercise help in my recovery?
2 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 and heart-healthy nutrition can speed the healing process 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.
  3. After a heart valve replacement, do not use supplemental calcium without approval from your healthcare provider.

Your Recovery Pathway

You can help yourself by practicing habits for positive emotional health. Setting yourself goals and realistic expectations can help keep you motivated. Celebrating progress, no matter how small, is also important. It may be tempting to run before you can walk, but remember to not push yourself too hard.

Our resources page is filled with useful information and checklists to help you plan for your treatment and recover pathway. Below are a few simple suggestions of how you can prepare for the aftercare process.

Plan your recovery and set positive goals
Often, before treatment, your 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. 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.

Move into a routine
One of the most reliable ways to keep your mood stable is to get moving. Exercise whenever your healthcare provider says you can, even it 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!

Keep track and weigh yourself every day
Expect a little weight loss for about 3 weeks. If you gain more than 5 pounds, mention this to your doctor. You may be retaining fluid, which can be dangerous.

Manage your expectations and celebrate your small milestones
Learn the facts before you have your procedure so that you’ll know what to expect when thinking about your progress. The more you celebrate your small victories each day, the more positive you will likely feel about your progress.