A heart valve replacement that’s done through a groin incision is called a transcatheter procedure. It usually has a faster recovery time than open heart surgery. Your age and other health conditions can affect your recovery.
Heart valve replacement is sometimes performed using open heart surgery. A less invasive option for valve replacement uses a catheter that’s inserted into a blood vessel in your groin and guided up into your heart. Once the tip of the catheter reaches the affected heart valve, the catheter deploys an artificial valve to replace the defective natural valve.
Because it requires only a small incision, the recovery for heart valve replacement through the groin is usually faster than a surgical valve replacement.
In this article, you’ll learn what the recovery process is like for a groin-based valve replacement, starting in the hospital and continuing once you go home.
Your heart has four valves that control blood flow. Sometimes a valve can stop working properly because of disease or damage. The result can be a valve that’s too stiff to open wide enough for sufficient blood flow. This is called valve stenosis.
The opposite condition, valve regurgitation (also known as a leaky heart valve), can also develop. It means the valve’s leaflets or flaps no longer close tightly enough to prevent blood from flowing backward through the valve. In some people, a valve can be repaired, while in others, valve replacement is necessary.
A heart valve replacement that uses a catheter inserted into a groin vessel is called a transcatheter procedure. Transcatheter simply means that the procedure takes place through an opening in a catheter — a thin, flexible tube that can be used for a variety of medical procedures.
The blood vessels in your groin tend to be larger than in other parts of your body, which makes them well-suited for transcatheter procedures. The main heart valve replacement procedures that use a groin incision include:
- Transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR): A TAVR procedure involves replacing the valve that releases blood into the aorta, your body’s largest artery.
- Transcatheter mitral valve replacement (TMVR): A TMVR procedure involves the replacement of the valve that allows blood to move from your heart’s left atrium (upper chamber) down to the left ventricle (lower chamber).
- Transcatheter pulmonary valve replacement: This procedure replaces the pulmonary valve that allows blood to leave the right ventricle and travel to your lungs to receive oxygen before returning to your heart.
- Transcatheter tricuspid valve replacement: This procedure replaces the tricuspid valve that controls the flow of blood from the right atrium down to the right ventricle.
While some of these procedures are more common than others, all of the heart valve replacement procedures through the groin have similar recovery processes.
Some of these procedures, especially TAVR and TMVR, are well-established treatments for damaged valves. A
A full recovery from a transcatheter heart valve procedure can take from 1 to 3 months, although you may be able to return to most of your usual activities within a
- your age
- your overall health
- postprocedure side effects
- the presence of other cardiovascular conditions
A study of more than 7,000 people who had TAVR suggests that increasing age is associated with a higher risk of stroke, the need for a pacemaker, and mortality following valve replacement.
Many individuals are advised to participate in cardiac rehabilitation after transcatheter valve replacement to accelerate recovery and improve outcomes.
Cardiac rehabilitation is a medically supervised program that typically includes:
- training on safe and effective exercises to bolster your heart health and recovery
- advice on a heart-healthy diet
- advice on how and when to take your medications and how to do so safely
- counseling for other lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking if you smoke, or reducing stress
Immediately following a valve replacement, you’ll typically stay in the hospital for at least a few days while your heart function is closely monitored. You may have some swelling and soreness around your groin incision at first, but this should gradually subside.
To continue a successful recovery at home, there are some general practices you’ll want to follow. For instance, you’ll need to:
- Check your incision: Make sure there are no signs of infection or bleeding side effects around the groin incision. For minor bleeding, apply gentle pressure to the site. If pus, unusual swelling, or fever develops, let your doctor know.
- Avoid strenuous activity: Avoid vigorous activity and heavy lifting for at least a month after a valve replacement. Gentle to moderate walking should be safe after a few days, but talk with your healthcare team about a timeline for resuming other activities.
- Rest: Don’t rush your recovery. Doing too much too soon may prolong your recovery, so rest when you feel tired and don’t push yourself too quickly.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet: A heart-healthy eating plan, like the Mediterranean diet, may improve your overall health and reduce your risk of heart disease.
- Take medications as directed: You may be prescribed a blood thinning medication to reduce your risk of clot formation. Talk with your doctor about a medication schedule that’s right for you.
- Get follow-up care: About a month after the procedure, you’ll likely need to see your doctor for your first follow-up appointment. During this appointment, your doctor will assess how the new valve and the rest of your heart are functioning. If everything looks good, your next follow-up visit should be in about a year.
Although a transcatheter heart valve replacement is usually safe and effective, there are some risks, such as:
- bleeding or infection at the incision site
- damage to a blood vessel or the heart
- blood clots, which could lead to a stroke or heart attack
- development of a heart rhythm disturbance (arrhythmia), which may require a pacemaker
- leakage at the valve site due to a poor fit
When to get medical attention
Although serious complications are rare, it’s important that you get prompt medical attention if you have:
- bleeding, swelling, red streaks, or discharge at the incision site, which could be signs of an infection
- a fever of more than 100.5°F (38.06°C)
- swelling in your lower limbs
- trouble urinating
Valve replacement can increase the risk of stroke, so it’s helpful to know the symptoms of a stroke and to call 911 or local emergency services if you have:
- difficulty raising one or both arms
- face drooping, usually on one side
- loss of coordination
- numbness or tingling in one arm
- sudden, severe headache
- trouble communicating
Transcatheter valve replacement can be a lifesaving procedure. One study suggests that individuals over 80 who have a transcatheter valve replacement can expect about the same life expectancy as their same-age peers.
For younger people with a valve replacement, life expectancy may be lower than the general public. This may be due to the presence of additional cardiac issues.
As for the life expectancy of the actual valves, mechanical valves are
A heart valve replacement that uses a catheter inserted into a groin vessel is called a transcatheter procedure. This type of procedure is becoming increasingly more common since they tend to have fewer risks and a faster recovery time than surgical valve replacements.
Still, it’s important to talk with a doctor about the risks and benefits of a heart valve replacement through a groin incision.
A full recovery from a transcatheter heart valve procedure typically takes about 1 to 3 months. But this timeframe can vary due to your age, other health conditions, and any postprocedure side effects.