After Heart Valve Surgery

How long does it take to recover after heart valve surgery?

Recovering from valve surgery usually takes most people between 4 and 8 weeks. If you had minimally invasive surgery, you may recover even sooner.  

Before you leave hospital, you’ll be given detailed instructions for exercise, medications, ongoing wound care and resuming normal activities.You’ll also be encouraged to book a cardiac rehabilitation program, which is a dedicated program that helps to support you, every step of the way, as you heal, recover and get back to your everyday routine. To find out more about cardiac rehabilitation, watch this short video.

It’s very common to feel ‘different’ for a short while after your valve surgery. To hear from our social worker about some of the emotional changes you may experience during your recovery, watch this short video. 

What should I eat after heart valve surgery?

After your valve surgery, you’ll need to focus on eating a healthy diet. This will help your body to heal and reduce your risk of complications and enable you to recover well. 

You may notice that you have a poor appetite and find that food has lost its flavour. Your sense of smell may change and you may also experience a strange metallic taste in your mouth. This can be caused by the operation or your medication and can take 3 months to fully recover. Try to eat small amounts of food often.

Many studies have shown that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seeds can reduce your risk of heart disease. A healthy diet provides your body with plenty of heart-protective nutrients - like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and dietary fibre.
Ideally, your diet should include:

  • Meat - and/or meat alternatives such as eggs, tofu, legumes and nuts 
  • Fish - 2 serves of oily fish per week such as salmon, mackerel or sardines will help you get plenty of heart healthy omega-3 fats
  • Wholegrains - good wholegrain choices include wholemeal or wholegrain bread or crackers, brown rice, wholemeal pasta, quinoa, freekah, barley, rye, rolled oats, polenta and couscous
  • Dairy - preferably low fat 
  • Healthy fats - a small amount of healthy fats and oils from nuts, seeds, avocado and oily fish
  • Water - avoid sugary soft drinks and drink alcohol only in moderation 

Aim to consume 2 serves of fruit, 5 serves of vegetables and 4 or more serves of wholegrains - depending on your energy needs. Some other tips to help you eat well include:

  • Reduce your salt intake - use as little salt as possible when cooking as this will help to lower your blood pressure and help prevent fluid retention
  • Avoid sugary foods - these are often eaten in place of healthy foods and can contribute to weight gain

You can hear tips from our dietitian about healthy eating after heart surgery in this short video.

What medications will I need to take after heart valve surgery?

After valve surgery you’ll need to take pain medications, as you can feel wound and muscle pain for a few weeks (if the pain persists beyond a few weeks, see your doctor). You’ll also be given medicines to lower your risk of infection or a secondary cardiac event.

Medications work best when you’re being healthy in all areas of your life - for example, exercising, quitting smoking and eating a healthy diet.

Everyone has individual requirements for medications, and you’ll be given a personalised medication plan that’s right for you. You can learn more from our pharmacist about the medications you may need to take by watching this video below. If you have any questions about any medication you are taking, ask your doctor or pharmacist. 

How do I reduce my risk of further heart problems after heart valve surgery? 

After your valve surgery, it’s very important to take steps to reduce your risk of having another heart problem or needing more heart surgery. After valve surgery, you have an increased risk for developing an infection of the valve (endocarditis). You’ll need to take steps to prevent risk of infection - including maintaining good dental hygiene.

The good news is that complications from your valve surgery aren't common. You should see your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms, which may signal a problem with your heart: 

  • Persistent chest pain which is not related to your wound (angina is rare, but possible)
  • Irregular heartbeat or palpitations
  • Persistent fever over 38 degrees Celsius
  • Chills
  • Rapid weight change (over 2kg in 24 hours)
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Excessive tiredness or weakness
  • Severe shortness of breath or shortness of breath which is increasing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Wound infection; signs include ooze, redness or swelling
  • Weight loss or appetite change
  • A cold or sore throat

How do I resume my regular activities after heart valve surgery?

It's important to protect your breastbone whilst it's healing after cardiac surgery.

Below, you can watch a video explaining how to perform your daily activities whilst protecting your breastbone.

Here’s a look at when it’s safe to resume some common activities:

  • Driving – The RTA enforces no driving for 4-6 weeks, except on the advice of your doctor, as concentration, reflex time and eyesight are often affected for 6 weeks
  • Sex – Sex requires about the same amount of energy as walking up two flights of stairs, and you’re generally ready to ease back into this from around week 3 (it’s normal to lose interest in sexual activity for a while; however, like other activities, you should be back to normal at 3 months)
  • Work – You can return to work related activities as soon as your concentration, confidence and physical abilities allow, and most people return to light office work from 6 weeks and heavy work at 3 months
  • Gardening – during your first week at home you’ll be able to hose the garden, and by the third week you can do a small amount of weeding and pruning. By your sixth week you can dig soft soil, and trimming hedges can be done at the eighth week 
  • Housework –start with the activities that you like to do the most, and keep it simple - light cooking, flower arranging, tidying up, dusting, washing up and clothes washing can all be started early, but delegate the heavier tasks to your family

You can find out more from our occupational therapist about resuming activities in this video. 

How do I start exercising again after heart valve surgery?

Exercising will help to speed up your recovery, and it’s a key component of a healthy lifestyle. Exercise increases your fitness levels, helps control blood pressure, weight and cholesterol, and keep you relaxed.

Start with short and simple walks, and gradually increase length and intensity. You can walk as much as you like as long as you feel comfortable, and daily walking - if only for a few minutes - is ideal. Here’s an example of how you might ease back into some other common forms of exercise:

  • Bowls – practice swinging the ball at six weeks, attend a roll up at eight weeks you could, and by three months you should be back to a full competitive game
  • Tennis –practice hitting the ball and gentle serving at six weeks, play a leisurely game of doubles at 8-10 weeks , and at 3 months you should be able to play a full competitive game 

To learn more from our physiotherapist about exercise, watch this short video.

Where can I go for ongoing support after heart valve surgery?

After you leave hospital, your medical team will be available for ongoing support as you recover. Your cardiac rehab program includes group support with other patients like you who have experienced similar surgery. You can also contact the following organisations for support and advice:
  • National Heart Foundation: (02) 9211 5188 or visit their website
  • Heartline: 1300 362 787
  • Australian Nutrition Foundation: (02) 9516 8191

Remember, you are not alone in this. Your medical team and support network are there for you, to help you recover as best you can - so you can go on to live a healthy, fulfilling and active life for many years to come.