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Helping a Loved One Recover From Heart Surgery

The first phase of heart surgery recovery can last from six to eight weeks. Upon discharge from the hospital or health care facility, the patient -- and often the caregiver -- will be given a set of instructions on post-surgery care. They typically include tips on what to do for the patient's physical and emotional well being.


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Care of the Incision After Heart Surgery

In order to take proper care of the incision after heart surgery, it is important to:

  • Keep the incision clean and dry.
  • Use only soap and water to cleanse the area.
  • Eat a healthy diet to help healing.

Call the doctor if signs of infection appear. These signs include:

  • Increased drainage or oozing from incision.
  • Opening of the incision line.
  • Redness or warmth around the incision.
  • Increased body temperature (greater than 100.4°F or 38°C).

You should also call the doctor if your loved one complains or notices that his or her sternum (breast bone) feels like it moves, or if it pops or cracks with movement.

Pain Relief After Heart Surgery

After heart surgery, some muscle or incision discomfort, itching, tightness, and/or numbness along the incision are normal. However, the pain should not be similar to what was experienced before surgery. Your loved one will be given a prescription for a pain medication before leaving the hospital.

For bypass surgery, there may be more pain in the legs than around the chest incision if saphenous veins (leg veins) were used as grafts. Walking, daily activities, and time will help to lessen leg discomfort and stiffness.

Driving After Heart Surgery

Your loved one's doctor will advise him or her when to resume driving after heart surgery. This usually occurs about 6-8 weeks after surgery -- or shorter if the surgery was minimally invasive. Riding as a passenger is fine.

Activity After Heart Surgery

After heart surgery, the doctor will tell your loved one when he or she is able to return to daily activities. However, for the first 6-8 weeks, the following guidelines are generally recommended for patients recovering from heart surgery:

  • Gradually increase activity. Household chores can be done, but standing in one place longer than 15 minutes is not recommended.
  • Don't lift objects that weigh more than 10 pounds.
  • Don't push or pull heavy objects.
  • Unless restricted by doctor's orders, climbing stairs is allowed.
  • Walk daily. The doctor or cardiac rehabilitation specialist will provide guidelines upon the patient's return home.

Diet After Heart Surgery

A healthy diet helps the healing process after heart surgery; if needed, the doctor will provide special dietary instructions.

Following surgery, it is common to have a poor appetite. If this is the case, encourage your loved one to try to eat smaller, more frequent meals. If his or her appetite doesn't return within a few weeks, contact the doctor.

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