Waiting for a major operation can be an anxious time. Put yourself in control by following these tips on how to prepare for heart valve surgery so that you’ll be ready, both physically and mentally, for the journey ahead…

Stop smoking and drinking

Both of these habits can spell trouble for recovery from surgery, so the sooner you can quit, the better. At the very least, you should make sure you’ve stopped smoking and drinking two weeks before surgery. Alcohol can stop your immune system from working effectively and also affects the health of your liver and even blood coagulation.

Sort out your diet

Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet and getting used to the kind of food that will help to keep your heart healthy is something that you can start doing straight away. Getting used to different meals and weaning yourself off junk food, sugary snacks and highly processed foods can be quite a big change, involving other family members too, so why not get experimenting now? Read our blog post What to eat before and after heart valve surgery for some inspiration.

Get exercising

Taking regular gentle exercise before surgery, if you’re able, not only gives you something to do that will release feel-good endorphins, it also supports recovery post-surgery. Two or three exercise sessions a week, either on an exercise bike or walking at a brisk rate, can contribute to a shorter hospital stay and make contracting pneumonia less likely. Always check with your doctor before you start a new exercise regime, and take advice on the most appropriate exercise for you.

Practice stress-relief techniques

Listening to music, meditating and deep breathing will all help to put you into a relaxed state. Deep-breathing exercises will also form part of your recovery after surgery, so it makes sense to start practising now! If you need some inspiration and have a smartphone or a tablet, there are hundreds of relaxation apps to choose from, including everything from nature sounds to guided visualisation. It’s important that you feel able to manage your stress levels, so if you’re really struggling to come to terms with the prospect of your operation, ask your doctor to refer you to a medical counsellor.

Read up

Everyone is different, but you’re likely to find that the more you understand about the medical procedure involved, the more in control you’ll feel. In turn, this will make it easier to manage your emotions. Ask your medical team for recommendations on what to read to get the right level of information.

Find your tribe

Look for online forums and social media groups to talk to other heart valve recovery patients, such as this Facebook group. These are the people who will understand exactly how you’re feeling and, as everyone is at different stages, there will be plenty of positive advice from people who are well into recovery or several years on from surgery who can boost your morale. There’s more info on that here.

See a dentist

Oral health is very important for heart valve replacement patients. See a dentist in good time once you know that surgery is likely, and make sure that you tell your surgeon about any issues with your teeth and gums. Dental problems could cause a delay to your surgery, so getting on top of any issues in good time will help to keep everything on track.

Talk to your employer

If you’re in work, you’ll need to let the right people know that you’ll be going for heart valve replacement surgery in the near future. Check with your doctor how much leave you’re likely to need and make sure that you (or your manager) keep the human resources department up to date. Checking your employment rights and discussing how a phased return to work might pan out will make you feel less anxious about taking time off, including how you’ll manage financially, and will give your employer the chance to offer you extra support that may be part of your employment package, such as counselling. You may be able to take a step back from more demanding aspects of your work in the run-up to your op, or plan in a few days’ leave before the big day to relax and switch off. Above all, it’s time to focus on your wellbeing and leave any unnecessary guilt at being away from work behind.

Decide on a point of contact

Who’s the best person to come to medical appointments with you, talk to medical staff and update your family and friends on how you’re doing? Whether it’s through social media updates, emails, texts or phone calls, people will want to know how you’re doing and send you their best wishes by proxy.

Make plans for coming home after surgery

Thinking beyond your operation is both a positive and a practical step As your surgery gets closer, start planning ahead for your return from hospital so that your family and friends are fully primed and you’ve got the right support in place to make your recovery as easy as possible. You can read more about that here.

Order your Active Patients cushion

Having something soft to hug will help to relieve pressure on your wound after your operation. Our heart-hug cushions are ideal for this – and also have place for you write down active goal – something to focus on and look forward to as you recover. You can order your Active Patients heart hug cushion here.


Medical information. This is provided for informational purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for advice by a doctor or other qualified healthcare professional. Patients should not use the information on the Active Patients website for diagnosing a health or fitness problem or disease. Patients should always consult with a doctor or other health professional for medical advice or information about diagnosis and treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice because of something you have read on Active Patients.