By 6 months, you should be able to resume most of your normal activities. You’ll want to attend follow-up doctor appointments and stick to all recovery recommendations in the weeks afterward.
An aortic valve replacement can be a lifesaving measure to preserve healthy heart function and robust circulation throughout the body. Like any heart procedure, the recovery can be lengthy and require careful adjustments to your activities and lifestyle.
At 6 months after aortic valve replacement, you should be feeling better and able to return to your regular routine.
Your age and overall health will affect your recovery timeline. The development of any complications may also extend the recovery period, which is why it’s so important to follow your doctor’s advice and report any concerning symptoms immediately.
According to the American Heart Association, the usual recovery time for aortic valve replacement is about
Those timelines are associated with open-heart surgery. A minimally invasive procedure called transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) may have a shorter recovery period.
The aortic valve replacement procedure
During aortic valve replacement surgery, a surgeon removes the diseased valve and replaces it with a prosthetic one. The new valve is either a mechanical valve or one made of biological tissue from a human, cow, or pig.
The procedure can be done with open surgery, which requires breaking the sternum to reach the heart. In some cases, the procedure can be done by threading catheters up to the heart through a blood vessel from the groin.
You will spend the first couple of days after aortic valve replacement in the hospital, where healthcare professionals can closely monitor you and your heart function.
Your activity may be limited to sitting up in bed, but soon your care team will encourage you to start walking and becoming more active.
While in the hospital, your care team will monitor you for signs and symptoms of cardiac complications, including:
- blood pressure changes
- changes in heart rate or rhythm
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
About 1 week after the procedure, some people may start to develop
If you develop any symptoms of depression, tell your doctor. Treating any mental health concerns will help your recovery.
Your doctor will likely prescribe pain relievers and antibiotics. If you’re already taking medications to manage your blood pressure or reduce your blood clotting risk, your healthcare team will give you instructions about when to resume taking them.
These instructions will likely be part of a broader care plan that includes elements such as:
- a heart-healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet
- follow-up doctor appointments, which are usually 1 week or so after your surgery and then again at 6 months, followed by annual cardiologist appointments unless otherwise directed by your healthcare team
- regular exercise
You can learn many diet and exercise tips, as well as advice about medication and other important heart health considerations, in cardiac rehabilitation. This rehab program usually begins within a month after aortic valve replacement.
A 2019 study suggests that an exercise-based cardiac rehab program can boost exercise capacity in the short term following open-heart and TAVR procedures.
For the first month or two after your valve procedure, you may get fatigued easily. This is normal and not a sign that your recovery isn’t going well. Allow yourself to rest. Take things at a slow and steady pace.
How long will I be in the hospital or ICU after surgery?
The length of your hospital stay after aortic valve replacement depends on the type of procedure performed.
Open-heart surgery typically requires around 1 week in the hospital, including 1 to 2 days in the intensive care unit (ICU). TAVR may only need 2 or 3 days in the hospital.
A 2019 study suggests that staying in the hospital longer than 72 hours after TAVR is associated with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
Researchers noted that people in poorer health, such as those with heart failure or severe kidney disease, may need to stay in the hospital longer.
The main activities you need to avoid in the days and weeks after aortic valve replacement include heavy lifting and exercises or work that require a lot of physical strain.
This is because the heart itself needs rest to heal appropriately, but also because the sternum needs time to heal if open-heart surgery was performed.
Driving is also discouraged for about 6 weeks after your procedure.
Your care team will discuss the activities you need to avoid or limit during your recovery.
Your return date to work depends on the type of work you do. Jobs that don’t require a lot of physical exertion, especially in the upper body, may be possible to return to within 4 to 6 weeks of your procedure.
If your job places a lot of physical strain on your body, plan to take at least 3 months off, if possible.
It’s important to pay attention to how you feel and consult with your care team about any concerns, such as returning to work.
Going back to work or other activities too quickly may set back your recovery or cause complications with your heart, surgical incision, or sternum.
When you are 6 months past your aortic valve replacement, you should be able to resume most, if not all, the activities you enjoyed before your procedure. You may even find that you have more energy and feel better than you did 6 months ago.
The key to a successful recovery from valve replacement, or any heart procedure, is to follow your doctor’s advice carefully and take things slowly.
You may have days when you are more tired or feel as though you’re not making progress. It is normal for recovery to have its ups and downs.
Getting a replacement heart valve is a big deal, so be patient with yourself and give yourself grace. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor.