Learning About Life With a Mechanical Heart Valve

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What is a mechanical heart valve?

Heart valve surgery replaces a heart valve that is damaged or narrowed by disease. Your doctor replaces your valve with an artificial valve made of plastic or metal. The new valve controls the normal flow of blood into and out of the heart.

It's important to keep in mind that an artificial valve won't work as well as an undamaged natural valve. So even though your heart works better, it may not recover to completely normal levels. If your heart was already working poorly before your surgery, you may still have heart problems.

Mechanical valves do not usually wear out. They usually last 20 years or more. Other problems might happen with the valve, such as an infection. As long as you have the valve, you and your doctor will need to watch for signs of problems.

What can you expect when you have a mechanical heart valve?

  • After you have a mechanical valve, you can expect to feel better and have fewer symptoms.
  • For at least 6 weeks, avoid lifting anything that would make you strain. This may include heavy grocery bags and milk containers, a heavy briefcase or backpack, cat litter or dog food bags, a vacuum cleaner, or a child.
  • You will probably need to take 4 to 12 weeks off from work. It depends on the type of work you do and how you feel.
  • You should be able to return to your normal activities, but you'll have to keep track of your health. You'll need to watch out for blood clots and infections.
  • Be sure to tell all of your doctors and your dentist that you have had heart valve surgery. This is important, because you may need to take antibiotics before certain procedures to prevent infection.
  • After surgery, you may need to take the blood thinner called warfarin. This will lower your risk of blood clots. You will need to take this medicine every day for as long as you have the valve.
  • If you take a blood thinner, be sure you get instructions about how to take your medicine safely. Blood thinners can cause serious bleeding problems.

How can you check for problems with your heart valve?

Even though you have a new valve, you still have a serious heart condition that needs to be watched closely. You and your doctor will need to watch for signs that there is a problem with the valve.

These signs might be similar to those you had before your original valve was replaced. Watch for:

  • Shortness of breath.
  • Fainting.
  • Chest pain.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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