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.

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.
  • Significantly reduce sodium intake

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

  • Increased redness around incision.
  • Opening of the incisional line.
  • Increased warmth around the incision.
  • Continued increased body temperature (greater than 100.4°F or 38°C).

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, intended to manage his/her pain but not totally eliminate the pain, 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. Daily Walking is important, as well as, daily activities, and time to help lessen leg discomfort and stiffness.

Driving After Heart Surgery

Your loved one’s surgeon will advise him or her when to resume driving after heart surgery. Riding as a passenger in the backseat with Heart Pillow under seatbelt 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 recommended for patients:

  • 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 5-10 pounds.
  • Don’t push or pull heavy objects.
  • Unless restricted by doctor’s orders, climbing stairs is allowed.
  • Walk daily, along with deep breathing and physical therapy exercises

Diet After Heart Surgery

A healthy diet helps the healing process after heart surgery; if needed, the American Heart Association has excellent dietary suggestions. Eating a heart healthy diet needs to become a lifestyle.

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. You can also substitute with high protein drinks suggest as Ensure. If his or her appetite doesn’t return within 3-4 weeks, contact your primary doctor.

Emotions After Heart Surgery

It is common after heart surgery for your loved one to feel sad or blue, but these feelings should pass after the first several weeks. After 1-2 weeks, the caregivers should encourage their loved one to:

  • Get dressed every day.
  • Walk daily.
  • Resume hobbies and social activities they enjoy.
  • Share their feelings with others.
  • Visit with others. Limit visits to 15 minutes at first. Then increase the time depending on their energy level.
  • Get a good night’s sleep, which means only 1 nap during the day.
  • Join a support group.

If the patient cannot shake his or her negative feelings, call your primary doctor.

Sleep After Heart Surgery

Many people complain of having trouble sleeping after heart surgery, but normal sleep patterns should resume within a few months. If a lack of sleep causes behavioral changes, call your primary doctor.

Caregivers can help a patient improve his or her sleep with these tips:

  • If your love one is having pain, encourage him or her to take pain medication about half an hour before bedtime. Offer to arrange the pillows so he/she can maintain a comfortable position.
  • Keeping in mind that activity must be balanced with rest during recovery from heart surgery, encourage your loved one to take 1 (one hr.) nap during the day.
  • Encourage your loved one to avoid caffeine after 3 o’clock in the afternoon (such as chocolate, coffee, tea, and colas).
  • Suggest listening to relaxing music about half an hour before bedtime.
  • Encourage a bedtime routine. By following the same rituals, a person’s body learns it is time to relax and get to sleep.

What is Mended Hearts?

Mended Hearts is a national volunteer support group for heart patients and their loved ones. If your loved one would like to speak to someone who has had heart surgery, contact Mended Hearts at 1-800-AHAUSA1 (1-800-242-8721). They can put you in touch with the local chapters here in Leesburg and The Villages.