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Heart Valves, Leg Pain, and Exercise

Published: January 1, 2009

In 2004 I had heart failure and surgery to replace a valve and arteries. Will the valve last forever? I am 70 years old. My legs pain a lot when I’m walking on an incline but not when on level ground. I feel sluggish and wonder if it is from heart problems or medicines. How much exercise should I do?

Mechanical heart valves usually last the life of the patient, while tissue valves last an average of five to fifteen years, with the shorter span occurring in younger patients. You don’t say which kind you have, but regardless, at your age and barring complications, you should not need a valve replacement. The pain in your legs may be caused by peripheral vascular disease, a process of plaque buildup that also may have occurred in your coronary arteries, and which is now obstructing blood flow to the muscles in your legs. A treadmill stress test is used to uncover blockages in arteries supplying the heart with blood. Walking up an incline can stress the muscles in the legs. The exercising muscles need more blood, and if there are obstructions preventing this increase, they become ischemic (starved of blood) and cause pain. This problem should be evaluated by your doctor.

It is difficult for me to prescribe how much exercise to do without knowing more about your condition. Generally I tell my patients to “listen to your body.” When your body “talks to you” in the form of pain, abnormal shortness of breath, or other symptoms, stop or slow down what you are doing. Exercise within those limits is usually okay.

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  • Marylyn D Adams

    I had minimally-invasive Aortic heart Valve replacement in July 2011…….Accompanying the operation, evidently, was a small (thank God) stroke on the left side….I had no idea that if I didn’t have it done the sternotomy way, i would have less risk of a stroke…..Noone in my family ever had a stroke….aNyway I was/am a professional pianist and computer researcher and so after 4-5 months I had worked back my left hand to do pretty much what i had done up to the day of the operation…but my left leg and foot have grown continaully worse…I did rehab for about a year, exercising on recumbent bikes, etc…and now have gradually weaned myself away from that but now the other leg is starting to be bad also……One man a few months ago asked me if I’d had trouble with my legs since my operation as he had had! I was stymied and said only with the stroke leg….Now i am wondering what in the world i can do…Have had arterial and venous dopplers..MRIs. Cardiac ultrasounds and carotid one too…no sign of any clots or blocked arteries or anything….How can I stem this problem???? I can barely walk now….72 and have been a fasst-paced woman…don’t want that to stop yet! Please help!!!