Munson Health
Related Information
Heart Valve Replacement

Back to Document

by Fucci MJ

Possible Complications

If you are planning to have heart valve replacement, your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include:
Some factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
  • Smoking
  • Pre-existing heart or lung condition
  • Increased age
  • Recent or long-term illness
  • Recent infection

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

Your doctor may do the following:
  • Physical exam
  • Echocardiogram—a test that uses sound waves to visualize functioning of the heart, including the valves
  • X-ray—a test that uses radiation to take a picture of structures inside the body
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG)—a test that records the heart's activity by measuring electrical currents through the heart muscle
  • Cardiac catheterization—the insertion of a tube-like instrument into the heart through an artery to detect problems with the heart and its blood supply. It can also accurately define the valve problem.
Leading up to your procedure:
  • If you had to stop medicines before the procedure, ask your doctor when you can start again. Medicines often stopped include:
    • Anti-inflammatory drugs
    • Blood thinners
  • Arrange for a ride to and from the hospital.
  • Arrange for help at home after the surgery.
  • Eat a light meal the night before the surgery. Do not eat or drink anything after midnight.


General anesthesia will be used. It will block any pain and keep you asleep through the surgery. It is given through an IV.

Description of the Procedure

The doctor will cut through the skin and breastbone. The chest cavity will be opened. Next, your heart will be connected to a heart-lung machine. This machine will take over the functions of the heart and lungs during the surgery. Next, the heart will be stopped. An incision will be made and the damaged valve will be removed. The new valve will be stitched into place. The doctor will check to make sure the valve opens and closes properly. The incision in the heart will be closed, and the heart will be restarted. After the heart is working fine, you will be removed from the heart-lung machine. The chest will be closed with wires. Lastly, the skin will be closed with sutures.

Immediately After Procedure

You will be closely monitored in the intensive care unit (ICU) with the help of the following devices:
  • A heart monitor
  • A breathing tube—until you can breathe on your own
  • Chest tubes—to drain accumulated fluids from the chest
  • A line into an artery in your arm or leg—to measure pressure
  • A tube through your nose and into the stomach—to keep the stomach drained of accumulated fluids and gas
  • An IV to deliver fluids and medications
  • A bladder catheter

How Long Will It Take?

3-5 hours—depending on how many valves need to be replaced

How Much Will It Hurt?

You will have pain while recovering. Your doctor will give you pain medicine.

Average Hospital Stay

This procedure is done in a hospital setting. The usual length of stay is 2-5 days. The first day is spent in ICU. Your doctor may choose to keep you longer if complications occur.

Post-procedure Care

At the Hospital
While you are recovering at the hospital, you may be instructed to:
  • Breathe deeply and cough 10-20 times every hour to help keep your lungs working well.
  • Walk with assistance. You may be encouraged to walk 2-3 days after surgery.
  • Take blood thinners to prevent blood clots from forming around the valve. If you have a tissue valve, you will not need a blood thinner. If you have a mechanical valve, you will have to take the medicine for the rest of your life.
At Home
When you return home, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:
  • Gradually resume your regular diet.
  • Work with a physical therapist.
  • Ask your doctor about when it is safe to shower, bathe, or soak in water.
  • Be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions.
The surgical site in your breastbone will heal in 4-6 weeks. After the recovery process, you should be able to return to normal activities.


American Heart Association

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute



Health Canada

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada



Cardiac catheterization. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at: Updated February 2011. Accessed May 8, 2013.

Cecil RL, Goldman L, Bennett J. Cecil Textbook of Medicine. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Company; 2000.

6/2/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance Mills E, Eyawo O, et al. Smoking cessation reduces postoperative complications: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Med. 2011;124(2):144-154.e8.


Revision Information