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Cardiac Surgery

  • Heart Surgery Aftercare

Heart Surgery Aftercare

Having heart surgery of any kind is a major life event, and you deserve to understand your aftercare and the intricacies of your surgery.

Helpful forms with tips, instructions and more

Have all your instructions and aftercare tips in one place. Below are several documents that will be great aids to you as you recover from your surgery:

Questions you may have about care after heart surgery

How can I increase my strength, prevent complication and speed my recovery?

Activity is essential following open-heart surgery to help speed recovery. Walk 3-4 times per day; 300 feet each time (approximately 8 minutes). Be upright in a chair as much as possible while awake. Change positions every 2 hours during the day. You can climb stairs, just take your time and go slowly.

Is it OK to cough and breathe deeply?

Cough and breathe deeply frequently after surgery. Support your chest with a firm pillow or by using the “heart” shaped pillow. Use your incentive spirometer every 2-4 hours; 5-10 good, deep breathes each time for 2 weeks after your hospital discharge.

How long do I have to wear my Ted Hose stockings?

Wear for 3 weeks. You may remove them 2-3 times daily for 30 minutes to 1 hour at a time. You may leave them off at night; but if you notice more leg swelling, we recommend you wear the hose at night. Put them on first thing in the morning. Remember to keep your feet elevated when you are seated during the day.

Why are my bowel functions different?

Bowel motility is sluggish after a major surgery. Usually they will begin motility within 2-3 days post operatively. Just a reminder that prescription pain medications can often cause constipation. You may need to use a stool softener when taking these medications.

What will help my bowel functioning?

Adequate diet, hydration, and motility will help your bowels to return to normal functioning. Use an over-the-counter laxative if necessary.

Why am I not hungry?

It is not uncommon to have a change in appetite after surgery. This will usually gradually improve within 1-2 weeks. Several small meals throughout the day may be more palatable.

What is normal weight gain?

Weigh daily for 2 weeks and keep a record of your weight. Report a weight gain of 3-4lbs/day or 5lbs/wk. A more consistent, accurate reading is usually obtained in the morning.

When can I resume sexual relations?

You may resume sexual relations when you feel physically comfortable, usually about 2-3 weeks after you leave the hospital. You should refrain from using medications for erectile dysfunction until you have seen your doctor at your post-op visit. If you have any questions, please discuss these with your surgeon at your follow-up appointment in 3 weeks.

I am an emotional rollercoaster. Is that OK?

t is not uncommon to have some emotional ups and downs within the first few weeks after your surgery. It is important to remember that these are normal emotions. You may experience some short-lived mood swings. We encourage you to actively participate in your recovery.

If you experience the following symptoms beyond 2 weeks, please talk to your primary care physician: deep sadness, helplessness, worthlessness, loss of control, extreme anxiety or sever irritability, complete lack of energy, wanting to withdraw from those around you, loss of desire to do anything that you enjoy, or if you are unable to sleep all of the time.

Why do I feel like my cognitive functions are slower, or that I am "fuzzy-headed"?

The entire body, including the brain, was seriously stressed during surgery. Some people feel they are not as sharp mentally after surgery. It is perfectly normal to have difficulty with short-term memory or feel confused or “fuzzy-headed”. These cognitive changes are typical. With time, in most cases, regular cognitive function returns.

Do you have financial assistance with filling prescriptions?

Let a nurse know if you need financial assistance with fillings prescriptions. Our Medication Assistance program may be able to help.

What if I have a question regarding proper medication use?

Call your pharmacist or your doctor if you have any questions regarding use of your medication.

Should I still take my medications I took before the surgery?

Medication taken before your surgery should not be continued unless permitted by your surgeon. Clarify the continued use of all previous medications with your doctor.

What if my pain is not intense enough for prescription medications?

You may want to use over the counter medications that are acetaminophen-based such as plain Tylenol or Tylenol Zs as an alternative. The FDA recommends that patients who have recently undergone heart surgery should not use NSAIDs (no-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). NSAIDs include medications such as Ibuprofen and Naproxen. As you wean yourself from pain medications you may want to alternate between prescription strength pain relievers and over the counter medications.

When can I return to work?

Plan to discuss this with your surgeon at the follow-up appointment in 3 weeks. Remember you have a driving restriction for 4 weeks and a lifting restriction for 8 weeks. If you drive commercial vehicles or operate heavy equipment, your employer may require that you also have a cardiology clearance to return to work to comply with the regulations of the Department of Transportation. Please discuss this with the Human Resources Department at your place of employment. Your recovery from heart surgery will take approximately two months.

Why do I need cardiac rehabilitation?

We recommend you participate in cardiac rehabilitation in approximately 2 weeks from hospital discharge. Cardiac rehabilitation programs provide exercise supervision for cardiac patients, as well as ongoing support to reduce your risk for further heart disease. This usually consists of one-hour sessions, 2-3 times weekly for the duration of 6 weeks. If you do not live in an area that provides cardiac rehab, we will provide you with a list of exercises you can complete daily.

What is normal for my incision?

Itching, tightness and/or numbness along your incision are normal after surgery. It’s perfectly normal to have a lump at the top of your incision. This will disappear with time.

What are signs or symptoms of infection?

Check your incision daily for redness, swelling, foul odor, and heat. Report any signs/symptoms of infection.

How do I clean my incision?

Clean your incision with mild soap and warm water. Use a clean washcloth to gently cleanse the area. Allow to air dry or pat with a clean towel to dry. If your incision is healing and dry, quick showers (no longer than 10 minutes) are allowed at one week after surgery or per at your physician’s recommendation. If you have staples, please do not shower until 2-3 days after they are removed.

Remove all wound dressings after 24 hours. If continuing to drain, cover with small gauze pad and attempt to remove again in 24 hours. If your incision appears well-healed, remove paper tapes in seven days.

What is that occasional clicking noise or sensation in my chest?

In the first days after surgery you will notice an occasional clicking noise or sensation in your chest. This should occur less often with time and go away completely within the first couple of weeks. If it gets worse, call your physician.

Is it OK to have muscle pain or tightness between your shoulder blades?

It is perfectly normal to experience muscle pain or tightness in your shoulders and upper back between your shoulder blades. This will get better with time. Your pain medication will help alleviate this discomfort.

When and what are my follow-up appointments?

1 week: arrange an appointment with your Primary Care provider. If sutures remain at the chest tube exit sites, please have them removed at the one week appointment.

2 weeks: Cardiac rehabilitation (if the facility in your area has not contacted you within 2 weeks, please contact)

3 weeks: Meet with the surgeon. You will need to arrive approximately 15 minutes before your appointment.

See your doctor for more information

If you're still unsure about your aftercare procedures or symptoms, contact your physician or care team for assistance. Your recovery and rehabilitation is our top priority!

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