What should I expect after Heart Surgery

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  Andy G

Heart surgery is commonly done to correct heart problems, both in children and adults. Hundreds of heart surgeries are performed every day throughout our country. The most frequently performed heart surgery on adults is coronary artery bypass graft surgery, or commonly called CABG.

What to expect after heart bypass surgery?

A heartbypass surgery is a major surgery, and your body goes through a lot of stress and strain and it needs time to recover and recoup its strength and energy. Your recovery begins in the hospital"s Intensive Care Unit or ICU as we commonly call it. You will be here for a couple of days while you will be in a recovery room or cardiothoracic unit for 3 to 5 days. You will, then, be discharged and can go home where your recovery may take about 6-8 weeks.

Waking up in the ICU

When you open your eyes after a heart bypass surgery, you will find yourself in the intensive care unit (ICU) where you have been brought in for recovery. A specialized team of cardiothoracic doctors and nurses are here to take care of you and ensure that you recover quickly and safely. The cardiothoracic team who were responsible for your surgery follows up on your progress in the ICU.

The ICU is specially equipped to monitor all your vital signs. You will come out of anesthesia only 3-4 hours after your surgery. In the ICU, you will find yourself surrounded by a host of equipment, monitors, and digital meters. You will see that a number of tubes are connected to you - most of these tubes will be removed in a day.

You will receive your medication through intravenous or IV tubes which will be closely monitored. An endotracheal or breathing tube, connected to a respirator, is inserted through your mouth which will help you breathe when you are asleep.

Don't worry if you feel cold and shiver after you are brought into the ICU - it's normal. When you come to, you will feel quite thirsty due to the medications you have received during your surgery. But, during your stay in the ICU, you will have to restrict your intake.

When you are lying on your bed, you can improve blood circulation to your legs by slightly moving or changing your position. Wriggling your toes will also help.

When can my family visit me?

Only one or two people at a time may visit you right after surgery. Each initial visit may be limited to 5-10 minutes. After the initial visit, your family member may stay for as long as she/he wants during visiting hours.As you are still connected to a breathing tube you will not be able to talk - but you can see and listen to them.

After the heart bypass surgery

The day after the surgery you can drink clear liquids. You will be allowed to sit up on your bed, and you will be taught breathing and coughing exercises that are extremely important for reducing risk of lung infection or pneumonia.

On the second day after surgery, you will be made to walk 2-3 times. You will find that your appetite has returned and you can eat solid food, but your liquid intake is restricted to 6-8 cups in 24 hours.

You will be moved out of the ICU to the cardiothoracic unit for recuperation and after another 3-4 days you will be allowed to go home.

Heart Bypass surgery recovery time at home

When you leave the hospital to go home after your surgery, you will be given detailed instructions how to take care of yourself at home. But, since you may not remember all the instructions, ensure that your caretaker is present. The phase of recovery at home may last from 6 to 8 weeks.

Before leaving the hospital, your doctor will give you the following instructions:

  • Care of your incision: You will be asked to clean the incision area with only soap and water. You will be asked not to apply ointments, oils, or dressings to the incision unless specifically instructed.
  • Eating a proper healthy diet will help you in healing fast.
  • Bathing: When your incision has healed and dry, you are allowed to take a bath with lukewarm water. But, see to it that the incision area does not get wet - and no soaking in the tub.
  • Infection: If you find any sign of infection contact your doctor.

Contact your doctor if you find:

  • Drainage or oozing from the incision
  • Increased opening of the incision line
  • Redness around the incision area
  • Feeling of warmth around the incision area
  • Increase in body temperature
  • Variation in your blood sugar levels if you are a diabetic


You will not find any signs of the previous pain or tightness in your chest observed before your surgery. You will be prescribed a medication for pain relief.

If you had a bypass surgery, you may have pain in your legs. Walking and resuming your daily activities will gradually reduce the pain.

Routine Activities

You can gradually resume all your normal activities, but it will take some time for you to lead a completely normal life. Follow your doctor's advice implicitly.

  • Driving: You will be advised when to take up driving again. Your sternum has to be completely healed before you can attempt that and it normally takes about 6-8 weeks for you to resume driving.
  • Work: You can return back to work after 8 weeks, and your doctor will tell you when to go back. Be flexible with your work timings for some time.
  • Other activities: Do not lift any heavy weights for some time, and the same rule applies to pushing and pulling heavy weights. You can do light household chores, but do not stand up for more than 15 minutes in one place. You can climb steps, but you should do it with breaks. Space your activities so that you do not get tired.
  • Exercise: Walk every day andyour doctor will advice you how long to walk.
  • Diet: Eat a healthy diet. If you do not have an appetite, eat small but more number of portions.
  • Sleep: Ensure that you get a good night's sleep. You may have a brief nap in the afternoon if you feel tired.
  • Sex: Resume normal relationship after 8 weeks. If you feel tired or short of breath, give it a little more time. If you face any difficulties, discuss with your doctor.


You will have to replace your old lifestyle with a new one. The cardiac rehabilitation program requires you to exercise regularly. It also teaches you new strategies to prevent any further damage to your heart. You can join a cardiac support group with similar problems.


Visit your doctor regularly for follow up review. And, make sure you follow your doctor's instructions precisely.