Heart Surgery Recovery
After heart surgery, you may need to stay in the hospital for around 7 days or more so that your doctor closely monitors your recovery. You may have to stay in the hospital intensive care unit (ICU) for a day or two and then be shifted to a regular hospital room. It can take a few weeks or months to recover from heart surgery, depending on the type of procedures you have undergone. Recovery also depends on your health before the surgery.
You may feel tired and sore for weeks after surgery. Taking good care of your health after surgery and following the instructions given by your doctor can help you recover faster and prevent complications.
Your Guide for Recovering After Heart Surgery
Care for wound -
The surgical sutures gradually dissolve over weeks. Proper wound care should be taken at home in the initial days as the stitches would be wet.
- Wear comfortable and loose clothes that do not rub on your wounds
- Use only water and soap to wash the wounded area
- Continue taking painkillers to relieve pain at the surgical incision site.
- Keep the wound clean and dry
- Shield the wound from the sun
- Eat a healthy diet
Physical activities -
Usually, the care team will advise you to avoid any activities during the first few days after surgery. It takes time for your breastbone to heal after cardiac surgery. You need to ease back into your regular activities slowly. Follow the specific guidelines given by your doctor or the cardiac rehab specialist for the first few months after surgery.
- Walk for short distances
- Do not stand for more than 15 minutes.
- Don't lift heavy objects
- Don't push or pull heavy objects
- Avoid travelling
It is common to lose your appetite and feel too tired to eat anything post heart surgery. Following the recommended diet will bring your appetite back, help wound healing, reduce your risk of complications and promote faster recovery.
- Opt for healthy food choices
- Try eating regular, small meals throughout the day
- Include diet low in fat, cholesterol and high proteins
- Include protein-rich foods in the diet like fish, eggs, beans and nuts
Sleep and rest -
Many patients experience insomnia (inability to sleep) and have trouble sleeping for some time after heart surgery. Anaesthesia effects, changes in the daily routine, pain, stress and overthinking are the main reasons for this. Following these tips may help you rest and sleep better:
- Take rest breaks between normal daily activities
- Avoid caffeine (coffee, tea, soft drinks and chocolates) in the evening
- Follow a bedtime routine
- Use pillows for comfortable positioning while sleeping
- Listen to relaxing music before sleeping
- Take a relaxing shower
Managing your pain -
You may experience pain and discomfort around the incisions. If your leg veins are used as grafts, your legs will hurt more than your chest. Before discharge, your doctor will prescribe you some pain killers. Post-surgical pain is unavoidable but can be managed in different ways:
- Use medicines regularly, on time as prescribed by the doctor
- Exercise (mild) daily to ease leg stiffness and discomfort
- Follow gentle exercises and relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation
Emotional well-being –
Physical and emotional recovery are both required after recovering from heart surgery. You may experience many emotions, like mood swings, crying for no reason, lack of energy, frustration, depression, anxiety, fear, etc., for weeks after your treatment.
It is important to take good self-care even if you feel physically and emotionally drained.
- Take up hobbies and social activities that you enjoy
- Walk daily
- Get dressed every day
- Meet your friends and relatives
- Express your feelings
- Get enough of rest and sleep
- Participate in a support group.
Regular exercises and taking your medications to prevent blood clots, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and help control diabetes will have an impact on your recovery and long-term outcome. It's also important to follow healthy-lifestyle measures like:
- Quit smoking and alcohol intake
- Stick to a healthy eating plan
- Maintain healthy weight
- Manage stress
- Exercise on a regular basis
When to consult a doctor?
Consult a doctor immediately if you experience any of the following signs and symptoms during recovery:
- severe chest pain
- palpitations and dizziness
- increasing ankle swelling
- nausea and vomiting
- shortness of breath
- signs of stroke
- oozing or redness at the site of surgery
- bleeding or discharge from the chest wound
The first six to eight weeks post-cardiac surgery is often the most difficult. If you were in good health prior to the operation, you might be able to recover fast. However, if you were severely ill prior to surgery or if you had any issues, your recovery may be slower. Always remember that your recovery should be gradual and steady. If you have or develop any condition that appears to be becoming gradually worse over three days, contact your doctor.
Dr Murugu Sundara Pandian
M.S (General Surgery), MBBS, M.Ch. Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery
Senior Cardiothoracic Surgeon
Department of Cardiovascular & Thoracic Surgery