Recovering after heart surgery: What to expect?

A heart surgery, be it a coronary artery bypass, aortic or mitral valve repair or replacement, is a major procedure. You may initially feel worse after the heart surgery. In fact, for several weeks, apart from dealing with wound pain, you may feel tired, irritable and even not as mentally sharp as before.

“It is normal to take four to ten weeks to fully recover from heart surgery,” says Dr Victor Chao, Senior Consultant, Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS), a member of the SingHealth group.

Besides feeling generally weak, you may also experience:

  • Wound discomfort
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Mental fog and forgetfulness
  • Depression to a varying degree

How you will feel will depend on your overall health, the surgery’s outcome, and how well you take care of yourself after surgery. Generally, patients with more severe symptoms before surgery will experience a greater sense of relief after it, adds Dr Chao.

Doctor’s tips on how to speed up recovery after heart surgery

In the weeks and months after heart surgery, take extra care in these areas:

1. Resuming physical activity

It is safe to cook, wash dishes and do light household chores after heart surgery, but you should wait about two months (maybe less if minimally invasive surgery techniques were used) to do the following:

  • Lifting objects heavier than 5 kg (the load may differ for each patient)
  • Pushing or pulling heavy objects (as the sternum is still healing)
  • Driving a car

Upon discharge, you should move around at home and do some light exercise, such as taking strolls around your neighbourhood.

The level of physical activity should be increased gradually. Ask your doctor or consider joining a cardiac rehabilitation programme for individualised guidance on exercise.

2. Managing wound care

You will receive pain medication to help you resume your daily living activities. Keeping the incision area clean and dry is important to prevent infection. Use only soap and warm water to clean the wound. Avoid hot baths.

See your doctor immediately if you notice the following signs of infection:

  • Oozing pus
  • Redness and tenderness around the incision
  • Opening up of incision
  • Fever (> 38º C)

If your pain is well controlled, you may slowly taper off the pain medication.

Read on for more tips on recovering from heart surgery.

Ref: R14