Learning About Life With a Tissue Heart Valve

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What is a tissue 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 animal tissue. 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.

Artificial valves wear out over time. A tissue valve will last about 10 to 18 years. As long as you have the valve, you and your doctor will need to watch for signs that it's wearing out.

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

  • After you have a tissue 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.
  • If you have atrial fibrillation or another health problem that increases your risk for blood clots, you may take aspirin or some other blood thinner. This will lower your risk of blood clots. You may need to take this medicine every day for as long as you have the valve.

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. And because tissue valves usually need to be replaced over time, you and your doctor will need to watch for signs that the new valve is wearing out.

These signs will 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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