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Recovery after heart surgery

Heart surgery recovery takes a lot of care. Here are some important tips for the aftercare of someone who has undergone heart surgery.

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

Seek medical advice if signs of infection appear. These include:

  • Increased drainage or oozing from the incision
  • Opening of the incision line
  • Redness or warmth around the incision
  • Increased body temperature (greater than 38°C)

You should also seek advice if it seems the sternum (breastbone) has moved, or if it pops or cracks with movement.

Pain relief after heart surgery

Some muscle or incision discomfort, itching, tightness or numbness along the incision are to be expected. However, the pain will be different from that experienced before surgery and painkiller medications will be prescribed.

For heart bypass surgery, there may be more pain in the legs than around the chest incision if leg veins were grafted. Walking, daily activities, and time, will help to lessen leg discomfort and stiffness.

Driving after heart surgery

Doctors usually recommend no driving for about six weeks. This may be shorter for patients who have had minimally invasive surgery. Check with your doctor what is appropriate for you.

Activity after heart surgery

For the first six to eight weeks, the following guidelines are recommended:

  • Gradually increase activity. Household chores can be done, but standing in one place longer than 15 minutes is not recommended
  • No lifting objects that weigh more than 2.5lbs
  • No pushing or pulling heavy objects
  • Climbing up and down stairs several times a day, especially when the patient first arrives home, is not recommended. Try to arrange activities so the patient goes downstairs in the morning and upstairs when it is time for bed
  • Walk daily. Guidelines for walking will be given by the doctor upon the patient's return home

Diet after heart surgery

A healthy diet will help the healing process. It is common after surgery to have a poor appetite at first. If this is the case, try to eat smaller, more frequent meals. Appetite should return within the first few weeks. If it does not, seek medical advice.

Emotions after heart surgery

It is common for patients to feel sad. These feelings should go away after the first few weeks. If they do not, seek medical advice. It may help to:

  • Get dressed every day
  • Walk daily
  • Resume hobbies and social activities
  • Talk. Limit visits to 15 minutes at first, then increase them depending on how the patient feels.
  • Get a good night's sleep
  • Join a support group or cardiac rehabilitation programme

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