Undergoing heart surgery can be likened to running a marathon without training. It has a huge impact not only on the body but also the mind and emotions. Heart surgery recovery time is different for everyone, but knowing what to expect during that period of recovery can help ease the worry and help give the necessary confidence to resume a healthy and energetic life.
On returning home from the hospital, speedy recovery from heart surgery can be helped by adherence to a few simple rules:
Once out of hospital, you should aim to take your temperature every morning for the first week of your heart surgery recovery and contact your doctor if your temperature stays above 101 degrees F for more than a day.
You should avoid lifting anything greater than 10 pounds while your breastbone (sternum) is healing and refrain from pushing or pulling activities with your arms.
You will be able to take a shower but should avoid taking a hot bath for approximately 4 – 6 weeks or until your wound is healed. You may wash your incision gently with soap but do not rub and do not use any creams or lotions on the wound until it is completely healed.
You will not be able to drive a car for the first 4-6 weeks during your heart surgery recovery as your reactions will be a lot slower due to weakness, tiredness and/or medication. Additionally, you do not want to risk hitting the steering wheel and reopening your wound. You are advised to avoid long car journeys but if unavoidable, ensure that you stop every 1-2 hours in order to stretch your legs. This will help to improve the circulation in your legs and prevent any swelling.
Try not to cross your legs while sitting or lying in bed as this puts pressure on the veins under the knees slowing the blood flow. If your legs or feet start to swell, lift them onto a chair or stool while you’re sitting.
Pushing/pulling heavy objects; working with your arms overhead or straining to move your bowels should be avoided as these activities can disproportionately increase blood pressure and put an added strain on a healing heart.
It is important to listen to your body and pace your activities to minimize fatigue. If you begin to feel tired, stop and rest for a while; don’t push yourself to finish a task.
You should aim to rest twice a day when first out of the hospital and thereafter at least once a day for the next few weeks.
Make sure you use your elastic stocking during the day for at least 2 weeks after your discharge from the hospital as they will help your blood flow and reduce swelling in your legs.
You may have a swelling or lump at the top of your chest wound. This is normal and usually disappears after a few months.
Many people experience discomfort from the incision in their breast bone, and, although this will decrease with time, you may experience re-occurrences along with changes in the weather or if you over tax yourself. Make sure that you take pain relieving medication when you need it. (It is very important to differentiate discomfort from your chest incision from actual chest pain and you should contact your doctor if you’re experiencing any chest pain).
If your chest or leg wounds do not look as if they are healing (for example you are having problems with redness; drainage; swelling or tenderness) you should get in touch with your doctor.
Check your weight every day for the first 2 weeks and if you notice a sudden gain, get in touch with your doctor.
Try to avoid situations, people or topics of conversation that are likely to make you tense or angry as your heart has to work harder when you’re upset.
Your diet, medications and exercise have been prescribed specifically for you so do not worry if you have a friend or neighbor with a heart condition who has been given different prescriptions.
When traveling, make sure that you keep a record of the medication you’re taking and also your medical history.
Remember, heart surgery recovery takes time and may involve changes in lifestyle and habits, not just for you but also for your family and close friends. It is vitally important that you share your feelings and discuss ongoing issues with those closest to you as open communication can minimize misunderstandings and help to ensure a smoother transition for everyone involved.
Our site contains a wealth of information on both heart bypass and gastric bypass surgery. If you are planning on or have already had either of these serious operations, you need to stay informed to reach your long term goals.