Your Recovery After Heart Surgery

Medically Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on November 01, 2022
3 min read

The first phase of heart surgery recovery can last from 6 to 8 weeks. When you're released from the hospital, you'll get a set of instructions for post-surgery care. These will help you heal physically and feel better.

Keep the cut your surgeon made clean and dry. You should be able to take a bath or shower within a few days.

It’s also important to:

  • Use only soap and water to wash the area.
  • Eat a healthy diet to help it heal.

Call the doctor if you have any signs of an infection, including:

  • More drainage or oozing than usual
  • Edges pulling apart
  • Redness or warmth around the cut
  • Fever greater than 100 F

You should also call your doctor when your breast bone feels like it shifts, or if it pops or cracks when you move.

Your doctor will probably prescribe pain medication before you leave the hospital.

Some discomfort around the cut and in your muscles -- including itching, tightness, and numbness along the incision -- is normal. But it shouldn't hurt as much as it did before your surgery.

If you had a bypass, your legs may hurt more than your chest if the surgeon used leg veins as grafts. The soreness and stiffness will fade with time. Gentle exercise and daily activities will also help ease your leg discomfort and stiffness.

For the first 6 to 8 weeks, gradually build up your activity, such as doing household chores. In general, doctors recommend:

  • Don't stand in one place longer than 15 minutes.
  • Don't lift things that weigh more than 10 pounds.
  • Don't push or pull heavy things.

Walk every day. Follow the guidelines the doctor or cardiac rehabilitation specialist gives you. Unless you've been told not to, you can climb stairs, but it's not a good idea to do it several times a day.

Your doctor will let you know when it's OK to drive again, usually within a month or so after surgery. It may be sooner if the surgeon did the operation with just a small cut. There's no need to wait to ride as a passenger.

Healthy food choices help the healing process. Your doctor will let you know if you should have or avoid specific things.

You may not feel like eating for a while after your surgery. It's common to have a poor appetite at first. Try smaller meals, more often.

Your appetite should come back in a few weeks. If it doesn't, bring this up with your doctor.

It's common after heart surgery to be sad or blue, but these feelings should pass after the first few weeks. If they don't, talk to your doctor about it.

To keep your spirits up:

  • Get dressed every day.
  • Walk daily.
  • Pick up your hobbies and social activities.
  • Share your feelings with others.
  • Get a good night's sleep.

Limit visits to 15 minutes at first. As you feel stronger and less tired, spend more time with your visitors.

Join a cardiac rehabilitation program or a support group.

Many people have trouble sleeping after heart surgery. You should get back to a normal slumber pattern within a few months.

If pain keeps you up, take medication about half an hour before bedtime. Arrange the pillows so you can stay in a comfortable position.

You'll probably need to rest after activity, but try not to take a lot of naps during the day.

In the evening, avoid caffeine, including chocolate, coffee, tea, and some sodas.

Settle into a bedtime routine, perhaps listening to relaxing music. Your body will learn these cues mean it's time to snooze.

Call your doctor if a lack of sleep starts affecting your mood or behavior or if sleep problems don't go away.