November 15, 2021

What to expect after a transcatheter aortic valve replacement

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You’ll likely feel much more energy after this procedure. Here’s what else to expect.

After a surgery to replace an aortic valve, complete recovery may take several weeks.

How long full recovery takes depends on whether the surgery was done through your groin, underneath the collarbone, or between your ribs. The groin (“transfemoral”) approach is the most common. It is also the least invasive method and tends to heal the fastest of several options.  

If there’s a reason that this approach is not best for your anatomy, your doctor will discuss that with you. All the transcatheter methods are considered less invasive than open heart surgery. This means fewer complications and a shorter recovery time than with open heart procedures.

Below are some general guidelines about what to expect as you heal.

Recovering at home

During your recovery:

  • Take medicine as directed. Take pain medicine and any other medicine exactly as your doctor advised. You will probably need to take the aspirin for the rest of your life. Be sure your doctor knows about all other medicines you take, including over-the-counter medicines and dietary supplements.
  • Take good care of your incision and pay attention to how it heals. It’s normal for the incision to be bruised, itchy or sore as it heals. It may take a week or more to heal. Care for the bandage and incision as your medical team explains. Do not put powder, lotion or ointment on the incision until it’s healed. If you notice swelling, redness, discharge or excessive bruising at the site, call your doctor.
  • Shower carefully. Unless you’re told otherwise, you can shower once you get home. Use warm water and mild soap. Don’t use hot water because it can make you feel light-headed. Don’t take a bath until your healthcare provider says it’s OK. Also don’t sit in a swimming pool or hot tub until your doctor says it’s OK. If your surgery was between your ribs, you may need to keep the incision site dry for a certain period.
  • Do only activities your doctor tells you are OK. Your doctor may tell you to not do strenuous activities for a week or more. This includes heavy lifting. Instructions on what to do will depending on how your surgery was done. Your doctor will give you specific instructions right for you.
  • Don’t drive if you are taking opioid pain medicine. These medicines can make you feel sleepy and it is unsafe to drive or operate heavy machinery while taking them.

Walk regularly. One of the best ways to get stronger is to walk. If your doctor agrees, start with short walks at home. Walk a little more each day. Take someone with you until you feel OK to walk alone. Your health care provider may recommend a cardiac rehab program. This will allow you to be closely monitored by trained personnel during exercise. Most insurance companies will cover these programs.

Follow-up care

Follow-up visits with your doctor help make sure you’re recovering well. To keep feeling your best, you’ll need regular checkups for the rest of your life.

Typically, patients have a follow-up visit 30 days after their surgery, and one year after surgery. These visits are very important. 

During these visits, you may have:

  • Blood tests to monitor the function of your heart and kidneys, and check for anemia.
  • Echocardiograms to see how well your heart and new heart valve are working.
  • Electrocardiograms (ECGs), to show if your heart rhythm has changed after your valve replacement.

Staying healthy after a heart valve replacement

  • Learn to take your own blood pressure and pulse. Keep a record of your results. Ask your health care provider which readings mean that you need medical care.
  • Weigh yourself every day and keep a record of this. It’s normal for your weight to fluctuate up to 2 to 3 pounds (0.9 to 1.4 kg) in a day. However, anything more than this could mean you are retaining fluid and developing heart failure. Tell your health care provider right away if this is the case.
  • Tell all your health care providers and dentists you’ve had a valve replacement. Before any dental procedure, you will need to take an antibiotic to protect your new heart valve.
  • Take any prescribed blood thinners exactly as directed.
  • Make lifestyle changes as advised by your doctor. Healthy habits such as regular exercise and a balanced diet can strengthen your heart.
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Vanderbilt University Medical Center is a leader in treating heart valve disease with the newest transcatheter techniques. Vanderbilt’s team includes general cardiologists, interventional cardiologists and cardiac surgeons, all with advanced training and expertise in structural heart and valve disease. They treat patients with diseases of the aortic, mitral or tricuspid valve, from the routine to the complex.

Download a free treatment guide