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What To Expect After Heart Surgery

Recovery in the Hospital

You may spend a day or more in the hospital's intensive care unit (ICU), depending on the type of heart surgery you have. An intravenous (IV) needle might be inserted in a blood vessel in your arm or chest to give you fluids until you're ready to drink on your own.

Your health care team may give you extra oxygen through a face mask or nasal prongs that fit just inside your nose. They will remove the mask or prongs when you no longer need them.

When you leave the ICU, you'll be moved to another part of the hospital for several days before you go home. While you're in the hospital, doctors and nurses will closely watch your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and incision site(s).

Recovery at Home

People respond differently to heart surgery. Your recovery at home will depend on what kind of heart problem and surgery you had. Your doctor will tell you how to:

  • Care for your healing incision(s)
  • Recognize signs of infection or other complications
  • Cope with the after-effects of surgery

You also will get information about followup appointments, medicines, and situations when you should call your doctor right away.

After-effects of heart surgery are normal. They may include muscle pain, chest pain, or swelling (especially if you have an incision in your leg from coronary artery bypass grafting, or CABG).

Other after-effects may include loss of appetite, problems sleeping, constipation, and mood swings and depression. After-effects usually go away over time.

Recovery time after heart surgery depends on the type of surgery you had, your overall health before the surgery, and any complications from the surgery.

Your doctor will let you know when you can go back to your daily routine, such as working, driving, and physical activity.

Ongoing Care

Ongoing care after your surgery will include checkups with your doctor. During these visits, you may have blood tests, an EKG (electrocardiogram), echocardiography, or a stress test. These tests will show how your heart is working after the surgery.

After some types of heart surgery, you'll need to take a blood-thinning medicine. Your doctor will do routine tests to make sure you're getting the right amount of medicine.

Your doctor also may recommend lifestyle changes and medicines to help you stay healthy. Lifestyle changes may include quitting smoking, changing your diet, being physically active, and reducing and managing stress.

Your doctor also may refer you to cardiac rehabilitation (rehab). Cardiac rehab is a medically supervised program that helps improve the health and well-being of people who have heart problems.

Cardiac rehab includes exercise training, education on heart healthy living, and counseling to reduce stress and help you recover. Your doctor can tell you where to find a cardiac rehab program near your home.

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Last Updated: November 8, 2013