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Jbird1952, June 9,  2021  12:26pm EST

Intermittent chest pain after aortic valve replacement

I had open chest aortic valve replacement in October 2020.

Surgeon had to open my chest twice that day. Second time due to bleeding. Sternum was secured w wires 

Sending out a question please. 

I see the cardiologist again today because I'm having a problem with intermittent shoulder girdle, thoracic/Mediastinal?, chest pain and sharp pain on inspiration , again,Intermittently,  3x Since October. It lasts about 3 to 4 days each time. Much better today again finally. 

When I surf the Internet I do see some Mention of chronic syndromes at least for the first year that occur for people with cardiothoracic surgery rarely.

My cardiology office of course said they never heard of it. (At least the nurse I spoke with)

The first time it happened was in November soon after the surgery when I tried to sleep on my right side for the first time. I had been sleeping in a recliner until then. I woke up with terrible chest pain and ended up with an ambulance ride to the ER. They found nothing wrong Cardiac wise and sent me home on aleve and called it musculoskeletal or pleurisy. They didn’t really know 

The second time it happened was this April (so around 5 months from the first time.)

It happened after I was gardening and divided some hostas and doing some digging with a shovel and on my hands and knees, which I know I probably should not have been doing, but such is life.

I'd like to try to be normal and I have been paying attention to what I do. I love to garden 

(The ache in my shoulders happens mildly even if I cross my arms in front of me I can feel an ache starting in my shoulders almost immediately)

The third time it happened was last Friday when we were out visiting my daughter for our grandson’s last day of school. We went mini golfing and played 20 holes of Mini golf. When I really thought about it that was actually pronating my arms around of golf club for quite awhile.

Then I tried to help Grandson move a heavy outdoor rod iron chair Which he was sitting on up to the table with bad body mechanics Right after the mini golf.

After that we went to one of his baseball games and I almost didn't make it through the baseball game. 

Until we got in the car for the 2 Hour Drive home I was almost ready to go to the emergency room again.  The chest pain was so severe and I couldn't settle it down with anything. Even a leftover oxycodone from when I was discharged from the hospital in October. Advil Tylenol.

It finally settled down a little bit and I just told my husband,  let's just go home.

The pain worsened with bearing down in bathroom,, pronation of arms,, bending over forward to pick something up or tiring shoes. 

Each day it's gradually gotten better again but I did not rebound as quickly this time. I was able to even do some subtle yoga stretches yesterday and I worked today although modified how I carry my forms and computer. (I’m a Hospice nurse)

I’m wondering if any other folks who have endured open heart surgery write in with this concern   

when this pain happens it is truly initially incapacitating  


Id appreciate any thoughts  

Thanks, Judy 

3 Replies
  • AHAModerator
    AHAModerator, June 9,  2021  4:46pm EST

    Hi Judy!

    Thank you for joining the support network and sharing your experience with us! We are glad you're here and hope that you find the support and answers that you need. I am not a medical professional, so I am not able to give you answers to why this may be happening. However, I would suggest that you seek a second opinion if you didn't get the answers you were looking for from your current doctor. As you wait for others to reply, I can share this resource with you on Heart Valve Surgery Recovery and Follow-up

    Please keep us updated on what your cardiologist has to say. 


    AHA Moderator 

  • Catie
    Catie, June 10,  2021  8:46pm EST

    Judy, my heart goes out to you. I of course don't have answers and I wish they were easier to come by. What I can contribute is that I experienced a number of painful manifestations in the weeks and months following my OHS. Quite a few emanated from my shoulders and neck and I have had a winged scapula since the surgery. At a couple of points I did seek out orthopedic specialists and the physical therapy they assigned to me unfortunately didn't help. I was never quite certain of exactly what damage I was trying to overcome but gradually the pains eased. I also had several lung-related complications which brought discomfort. If it turns out that you've suffered from pleurisy or costochondritis, both can be extremely painful. I once had the ends of retained pacing wires push into my rib and nearby pleural tissue and cause hours of pain that sent me to the ER.  I'll also mention that my surgeon's nurse advised me not to lay on my side at all for at least six weeks. 

    I hope the puzzling and painful after-effects you've been battling will ease soon! Wishing you well....

  • AmbassadorMR
    AmbassadorMR, June 12,  2021  3:49pm EST

    Hi Judy and welcome to the support site.

    I had minimally invasive aortic valve replacement back in 2012, so my situation is not the same as yours. I only had one rib separated and then wired, and even I had some pain and discomfort during my recovery. Having said that, I have many friends and acquaintances who have had a full sternotomy like you did. It is not at all uncommon for patients to experience discomfort from their sternum separation and re-joining. The wires can also produce pain in some patients if they push into adjacent tissues or organs, as Catie mentioned in her post.

    Some innovative surgeons are using rigid sternal fixation as an alternative for re-joining the sternum after OHS. You can see a description of this process here:


    I know this doesn't help you now, but it does help explain why you may be experiencing the discomfort that you are. I regret that your doctors are dismissing or misdiagnosing your condition, and I strongly recommend that you get an independent second opinion to determine if your sternal wires are pressing on nerves, tissues or organs and causing pain. It could also be that your sternum never quite healed properly to begin with. At any rate, rather than living with the pain or not being properly treated, I believe another thorough look at your sternum by exam is most warranted. So sorry you are dealing with all of this, and please let us know how we can continue to support you in your journey back to full heart health.

    Best Regards,


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