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Heart Valve Replacement: How to Prepare

Topic Overview

Before you have surgery to replace a heart valve, you will need to prepare for your hospital stay.

Hospital preadmission

You will have to visit the hospital or your doctor's office several days in advance of your surgery for a hospital preadmission session. During this session, your medical team will educate you about your upcoming surgery. They will also teach you how to prepare for your operation, explain what the procedure will be like, and give you instructions for a successful recovery. Some institutions even show a patient education video about having valve replacement surgery.

You should use this time to ask questions. It is natural for you to be anxious before your operation. So be sure to talk about the issues that may be causing you anxiety.

Informed consent

One of the issues that your doctor or nurse will discuss with you during the preadmission session is informed consent. Your doctor or nurse will describe the risks associated with a valve replacement surgery. These include:

  • Stroke.
  • Bleeding.
  • Infection.
  • Heart attack.
  • Kidney failure.
  • Death.

You will then be asked to sign a consent form (waiver). Be sure to read it carefully. Ask questions about the form if there is anything that you don't understand.

Preparatory procedures

You will have a range of preparatory procedures. Your hospital staff will give you a few preliminary tests, such as an EKG and a blood test, to make sure that your bodily functions are normal. You will also be asked to bathe or shower with an antiseptic soap, while a technician will shave any hair from your chest and abdomen, so that your body can be as clean as possible during surgery.

Anesthesia

One of the most important discussions you have prior to surgery will be with your anesthesiologist, who will administer anesthesia during your operation. Because general anesthesia carries significant risks, you will need to describe your past medical history, including other operations you have had and any allergies to food or medicines. Mention any history, either personal or within your family, of adverse reactions to anesthesia. Bring a list of the medicines you are currently taking.

Before surgery

Because valve replacement surgery is a serious surgical procedure, begin preparing for it several days ahead of time. Try to get into good condition by eating healthy foods, getting plenty of rest, and limiting vigorous physical activity. Ask your doctor if there are any medicines you should take or should not take before your surgery.

Your doctor will give you instructions for the night before your surgery. For example, you doctor will tell you when you must not eat or drink anything (including water) before surgery. Follow the instructions exactly, or your surgery may be canceled. If your doctor has instructed you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, do so using only a sip of water.

During the operation

Before surgery begins, you will be put under general anesthesia, which will be given both through an IV line and through a mask placed over your mouth and nose. When you are given general anesthesia, you will be unconscious during the entire operation and will not feel anything.

While you are unconscious, your surgeon will make an incision along the length of the breastbone and expose your heart. Your heart will be hooked up to a heart-lung machine. After blood flow is directed to this machine, the surgeon will remove your damaged valve and replace it with an artificial valve.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
John A. McPherson, MD, FACC, FSCAI - Cardiology
Last Revised November 29, 2011

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