After heart valve replacement surgery, a doctor usually encourages people to resume eating as soon as possible. This may include foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.

Heart valve replacement surgery is a procedure someone may require if they have valvular heart disease. This refers to a condition where heart valves do not function correctly due to damage or disease.

Valves in the heart open and close as the heart beats to allow the blood to flow. However, damage can cause them to become leaky. This may result in a heart valve not closing properly, which can allow some blood to flow back through it.

Around 2.5% of the United States population has valvular heart disease, and some may require surgery. Several surgical options are available, including inserting a mechanical valve or using one from a human tissue donor or an animal. Doctors can also move a healthy valve from a person’s heart into a new position.

After surgery, it is important to follow a doctor’s guidelines on postoperative care to ensure a successful recovery. This can include following a suitable eating pattern to help support cardiovascular health. A healthy and varied eating plan can benefit cardiovascular health and help prevent complications.

This article focuses on sensible eating options after heart valve replacement surgery and foods to limit.

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The American Heart Association (AHA) encourages people to resume eating and drinking as soon as possible after surgery. They advise people to consume a variety of healthy foods during their recovery to fuel cell growth and repair.

According to the 2021 AHA dietary guidance to improve cardiovascular health, the following foods may be beneficial to include:

  • a variety of fruits and vegetables, particularly antioxidant-rich dark-colored types
  • whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, oats, buckwheat, barley, whole grain bread, and spelt
  • healthy proteins mostly from plants, including soy, beans, lentils, split peas, nuts, and seeds
  • fish and seafood
  • low fat or fat free dairy products
  • lean cuts of meat and poultry
  • liquid plant oils in moderation
  • minimally processed foods

People should speak with their healthcare team about foods and drinks they suggest limiting or avoiding after surgery. For example, a doctor may recommend avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and salt.

Additionally, the AHA guidance recommends avoiding the following foods and drinks, as they may be a risk to heart health:

  • foods with added sugars, such as sweet treats, cakes, biscuits, cereals, pastries, sauces, and syrups
  • red and processed meat and poultry with skin
  • processed foods and snacks that may contain high amounts of sugar, fat, and salt
  • full fat dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • foods containing higher amounts of salt
  • alcoholic beverages, if applicable, including beers, wines, and spirits
  • sugary drinks and sodas

According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), a person who undergoes aortic valve replacement usually stays in the hospital for around a week. Similarly, other sources note that after open heart surgery, a person will wake up in the ICU and remain there for observation for up to 2 days. They will then go to the regular surgical unit for up to 5 days.

Following surgery, the breastbone will usually heal in 6–8 weeks, but it may be 2–3 months before a person fully recovers. The speed of a person’s recovery may depend on several factors, including general health and age. As such, it may take several months to return to their usual activities.

A 2021 review indicates that people may need to take anticoagulant drugs for a lifetime, or a long time, following heart valve replacement surgery. It adds that bleeding or clotting may occur if an individual does not use the drugs properly. Not using medications correctly accounts for 75% of long-term postoperative complications.

Anticoagulants are drugs that thin the blood and stop it from clotting. Common anticoagulants are:

People must take the medications their doctor prescribes following surgery to avoid further complications.

They can also ensure they adhere to healthy heart guidelines by doing the following:

  • eating a healthy diet
  • staying physically active after suitably recovering from surgery
  • managing weight
  • avoiding smoking, vaping, and inhaling secondhand smoke, if applicable

Learn more about cardiovascular health at our dedicated hub.

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Health experts usually advise a person to resume eating as soon as possible following heart valve replacement surgery. However, surgeons may advise patients to limit specific foods and drinks, such as salt, caffeine, and alcohol (if applicable).

Guidance for keeping the heart healthy recommends eating a whole food diet, including plant proteins and healthy fats, and avoiding saturated fats, added sugar, and excess salt.

In addition, it is advisable for people to manage their weight, maintain physical activity, and avoid tobacco and alcohol to support their long-term heart health.