Approximately 50 000 valve replacement operations take place in Europe annually and almost as many valve repair procedures. Previous European guidelines on management of patients after valve surgery were last published in 1995 and were limited to recommendations about antithrombotic prophylaxis.1 American guidelines covering the broader topic of the investigation and treatment of patients with valve disease were published in 1998 but devoted relatively little space to post-surgical management.2 This document represents the consensus view of a committee drawn from three European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Working Groups (WG): the WG on Valvular Heart Disease, the WG on Thrombosis, and the WG on Rehabilitation and Exercise Physiology.
In almost all areas of patient management after valve surgery, randomized trials and meta-analyses do not exist. Such randomized trials as do exist are very few in number, are narrowly focused with small numbers, have limited general applicability, and do not lend themselves to meta-analysis because of widely divergent methodologies and different patient characteristics. Recommendations are therefore almost entirely based on non-randomized studies and relevant basic science.