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After Heart Surgery

For the benefit of our patients when they return home after heart surgery, we have provided information below for the post-operative period. We hope that you find this information helpful.

Daily Routine

Your daily routine should include showering, getting dressed and leaving the bedroom. Spend your day in the living areas of the house, not the bedroom. If you encounter stairs during the day, you may use them, resting if necessary.


You don't need to learn new recipes. Most everything you made prior to surgery can be modified to accommodate a heart-healthy diet. Check out heart-healthy cookbooks at your local bookstore.


Fatigue is very common after heart surgery. It can last for days or even weeks if you don't get back to routine physical activity. Exercise (walking) is the best treatment for fatigue.

Walking and Exercise

Walking is probably the single most important activity you can do to hasten your recovery.

Getting Started: Begin on flat, level ground, no hills yet (hills are OK in four weeks). Your first walk should last five minutes. After several days, increase your walk by three minutes every two to three days. Take it slow at first if you have to, this is not a race. At the end of one month you should be able to walk 20 to 30 minutes nonstop. Remember that the key to a cardiovascular workout is getting your heart rate up and keeping it there for at least 20 minutes. As part of your daily routine, activity around the house is good, but what is most beneficial is continuous, nonstop exercise mentioned above.

Care of Your Incisions

Soap and water alone will heal your incisions. Keep the incision uncovered once the bandages are removed. It's okay to shower but please avoid hot baths and hot tubs until your incision heals completely (usually about four to six weeks). Pat your incision completely dry after showering using a soft towel. Do not use lotions, creams or Vitamin E ointments unless instructed by your doctor.

Weight Gain

A weight gain of two pounds or more overnight could be an indication of water retention. It is sometimes common to experience minimal swelling in your legs, especially on the leg that has the incision. To combat this mild swelling, keep your legs elevated. Do this by lying flat on your back with your head up on pillow and your legs propped up above the level of your heart. DO NOT sit in an easy chair or recliner with your legs up.


Sex is okay when you feel ready - but avoid putting too much pressure on your chest. Sexual relations are fine whenever you have recuperated enough to desire it.


It is common to have some continuing soreness across the chest area, which may extend to the shoulders, neck and back. The leg incision may also continue to cause discomfort. Sometimes people have more aches and pain as the days go by and think something is wrong, but there is a very good reason for this. While in the hospital, there are many people doing things for you and you're not quite as active as you are at home. Once you get home, you usually start doing more (this is good), which includes getting in and out of a flat bed. With this increased activity comes soreness. You will be discharged with a prescription for pain medicine. Often times Extra Strength Tylenol is all you need. Try alternating the two; taking pain medication, then in the next six to eight hours taking Tylenol.


One of the biggest limitations after this surgery is due to the fact that your breastbone was broken in order to operate on your heart. Any broken bones generally take six to eight weeks to heal and therefore, you should not drive a car (you may be a passenger) for at least four weeks. Also, no heavy lifting, pushing or pulling of more than ten pounds for at least six weeks.

Returning to Work

Your employer may be able to ease you back into work gradually. Average time away from work is six to eight weeks. If you need longer or want to return sooner, please discuss this with your doctor.


Auto or commercial air travel is fine. Unpressurized aircraft should be avoided for at least a month as well as travel to elevations more than 5,000 or 6,000 feet unless you normally live there. On long road trips, try to stop every one to two hours to stretch your legs for a few minutes.

Reasons to Call Your Doctor

Please contact us any time day or night if you should experience any of the symptoms listed below. If it is after regular business hours, our answering service will pick up the call and get in touch with your physician.

  • Sudden or severe pain
  • Extreme dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Temperature higher than 100.6 degrees
  • Swelling, tenderness, oozing or redness around incisions
  • Chest pain (angina)
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Increased swelling of legs, ankles or hands
  • Sudden, fast and/or irregular heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath while resting or with minimal exercise
  • Overnight weight gain of two or more pounds