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What to expect after treatment

The normal recovery time after a heart valve surgery is four to eight weeks, but may be shorter after minimally invasive surgeries. To help your loved one 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 prepare for before your loved one goes in for treatment.

Immediately after treatment

Immediately after surgery, patients are usually practicing very basic self-care and should be encouraged to get up, be as active as possible, to breathe deeply, and resume eating, drinking and walking.

You should support your loved ones as best you can. Encourage them to be as active as is comfortable to support their recovery.

Days and weeks following your treatment

During this phase, patients can expect to gradually regain energy and return to their normal activity level. After about 3 weeks they should be able to walk for about 10 minutes a few times a day, and by week 6 they should comfortably be able to walk for 30 minutes. Develop a routine of exercise you can do together. Click here here for ideas

Set achievable goals for you and your loved one to accomplish together.

Follow-up care

They 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 valve clinic what symptoms would warrant a phone call or an additional recheck. Whenever they have questions or concerns or if they experience any unusual symptoms or changes in their overall health, it never hurts to call and ask.

Nutrition is a key part in recovery. Think about what you can do to support your loved ones diet


Two important parts of recovery and continuing health are a good diet and a regular exercise routine.

If the doctor has recommended a particular diet, it's important that your loved one follows it. If a special diet has not been recommended, balanced, heart-healthy nutrition can speed healing and lessen fatigue.

During recovery and beyond make sure to

  1. Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, breads, lean meats including fish and low-fat dairy products.
  2. Initially they may not feel like eating large meals, so ensure they eat small snacks throughout the day
  3. Foods that are high in saturated fats, sugar, salt, and sodium should be limited.
  4. 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.
  5. Patients should not drink alcohol when taking certain medicines

Healthy eating will be covered in their cardiac rehabilitation course and further information can be obtained from your rehabilitation nurse, dietitian, GP or valve disease clinic.

Healthy Habits: Exercise

Regular exercise is extremely important to optimise the benefits of your loved ones surgery. It will:

  1. Help regain cardiovascular fitness and speeded return to everyday activities
  2. Help control blood pressure, weight and cholesterol, lowering the risk of future coronary heart disease
  3. Give a feeling of well-being, increase confidence and improve quality of life
  4. Help prevent osteoporosis and constipation and improve balance, co-ordination, flexibility and circulation.

What type of exercise?

Walking is an ideal form of exercise. If the limits their ability to exercise, they will have naturally lost some of their fitness. Gradually build up the distance they can walk. Begin by walking the distance they were walking in hospital in the first week. Increase the time you are walking together by five minutes every two to three days.

Goal: To be able to comfortably walk briskly for 30 minutes, 5 days a week, six weeks after leaving hospital.

Guidelines for walking:

  1. Start each walk slowly
  2. Build up to a brisk pace
  3. Finish by slowing to a steady pace

Don't:

  1. Exercise for an hour after eating
  2. Over exercise
  3. Continue if they experience angina pain, nausea, dizziness, marked breathlessness, or become cold and clammy.

Positive Goals: Plan your Recovery

Often, before treatment, their mind will be anxious and pre-occupied with thoughts of the actual procedure. It is essential that you look beyond this, and plan for their recovery pathway. Speak with your family, and explain what activities they might need help with.

You might like to arrange for a friend or family member who lives a distance away to come and see them 6 or 7 weeks after surgery. This will be an incentive, and something to work towards during their recovery.

Manage your Expectations and Celebrate your Small Milestones

Learn the facts before they have their surgical procedure so that they’ll know what to expect. The more you celebrate their small victories each day and notice the moments of progress, the more positive they will likely feel about their recovery.