How to Make a Safe Recovery From Heart Surgery

When you come home after heart surgery, you can make your recovery smoother if you follow some simple tips. Watch out for infections, eat a healthy diet, and stick to your doctor's instructions about when it's OK to get back to your daily activities.

Taking Care of the Incision Made by Your Surgeon

It's important to:

  • Keep the cut clean and dry
  • Use only soap and water to wash the area
  • Eat a healthy diet to help it heal

Call your doctor if you spot any signs of infection in the area of the cut, such as:

  • More drainage or oozing
  • The cut opening up
  • Redness or warmth
  • Fever (greater than 101 F)

Also, call your doctor if your sternum (breastbone) feels like it moves or if it pops or cracks when you move.

Pain Relief

Some discomfort, itching, tightness, or numbness around the cut is normal after you have heart surgery. But the pain shouldn't resemble the pain you had before surgery. Your doctor will give you a prescription for pain medication before you leave the hospital.


After heart bypass surgery, you may have more pain in your legs than around the cut in your chest if your surgeon used your leg veins for the procedure. Walking, daily activities, and time will help ease your leg discomfort and stiffness.


Driving After Heart Surgery

You're probably anxious to know when you can get behind the wheel again. Your doctor will let you know when it's OK. It's often all right to drive about 4 to 6 weeks later, but it depends on the kind of surgery you had. Until you get the go-ahead, though, you can be a passenger in a car as often as you like.

Daily Activities

Your doctor will tell you when you can get back to your regular routine after heart surgery. During the first 6 to 8 eight weeks after your operation, follow these guidelines:

  • Gradually increase your activity.
  • You can do household chores, but 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 objects.
  • Climbing stairs is OK if your doctor says it is, but it's not a good idea to do it several times a day.
  • Walk every day. Your doctor will give you guidelines on how much.


Healthy food will help you heal. When you leave the hospital, your doctor will give you instructions on diet.

It's common after surgery to have a poor appetite at first. If this happens to you, try to eat smaller, more frequent meals. Your appetite should come back in a few weeks. If it doesn't, talk to your doctor.

Your Emotions

Many people feel sad or blue after heart surgery. These feelings usually go away after the first few weeks. Get in touch with your doctor if they don't.

Here are some ways to ease those down-in-dump feelings:

  • Make sure you get dressed every day.
  • Walk every day.
  • Get back to hobbies you enjoy.
  • Share your feelings with your family and friends.
  • Visit with your friends, but keep it to 15 minutes at first. Increase the time, depending on how you feel.
  • Get a good night's sleep.
  • Join a support group or cardiac rehabilitation program.


You may have trouble sleeping at first after you come home from heart surgery. Your normal pattern should come back in a few months. Call your doctor if lack of sleep begins to cause changes in your behavior or sleep problems don't go away.


Here are some tips that can help you sleep better:

  • If you have pain, take pain medication about half an hour before bedtime.
  • Though you need to balance activity and rest, try not to take frequent naps during the day.
  • Avoid caffeine in the evenings (it's in chocolate, coffee, tea, and colas).
  • Listen to relaxing music.
  • Get into a bedtime routine so your body learns when it's time to relax and get to sleep.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on August 24, 2020



American Heart Association.

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