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Heart Failure Health Center

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Caregiving After Surgery for Heart Failure

Some people with heart failure have a loved one who serves as their caregiver after surgery. If this care giving role applies to you, you'll most likely be given a set of instructions on care during the first phase of recovery, which lasts about six to eight weeks. Those who have had minimally invasive surgery may have a shorter recovery time. Sometimes self-care instructions are given directly to the patient. Typical instructions include:

Care of the Surgery Incision

In order to take proper care of an incision after 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 symptoms 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 sternum (breast bone) feels like it moves, or if it pops or cracks with movement.

Pain Relief After Surgery for Heart Failure

Some muscle or incision discomfort, itching, tightness, and/or numbness along the incision are normal after surgery for heart failure. 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 they leave the hospital.

Driving After Surgery for Heart Failure

Your loved one's doctor will tell him or her when they may resume driving after surgery for heart failure. This usually occurs about six to eight weeks after surgery; however, time may be shorter if he or she had minimally invasive surgery. During this time, they may be passengers as often as they like.

Activity After Surgery for Heart Failure

The doctor will tell your loved one when he or she is able to return to daily activities. However, for the first six to eight weeks, the following guidelines are 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.
  • No lifting objects more than 10 pounds.
  • No pushing or pulling heavy objects.
  • Unless restricted by doctor's orders, climbing stairs is allowed; however, climbing up and down stairs several times during the day, especially when the patient first arrives home, is not recommended. When planning activities, try to arrange them so the patient goes downstairs in the morning and back upstairs when it is time for bed.
  • Walk daily. Guidelines for walking will be given to the patient or the caregiver by the doctor or a cardiac rehabilitation specialist upon the patient's return home.

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