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Heart Surgery

Recovering at Home

After you go home you may have questions about many things like your medicines, rehabilitation, and equipment. Your family doctor is an important member of your healthcare team. Talk to them about getting in touch with resources in your area and any other questions you have.

Your heart condition may have stopped you from enjoying a normal lifestyle. After your operation and as you begin your recovery, your heart will work better, which means that you’ll feel better. Over the next 3 to 6 months you’ll notice that you have more energy and don’t tire as fast.

Even though you may feel better, you’ll still have to take it easy. Start your usual activities slowly and gradually. Use the Home Recovery Guide to pace yourself. You can keep a copy of the guide somewhere you’ll see it every day.

Remember, everyone recovers differently. Be patient with yourself. Some days you’ll feel better than others. Some days you’ll be able to do more, some days less.

At about 3 months you should be back to your usual day-to-day activities as long as your family doctor says it’s okay. Talk with your heart surgeon or doctor if you have questions about returning to work.

Caring for Your Incision

  • Keeping your hands clean is the best thing you can do to stop the spread of infections.
  • Remind others, such as your family and friends, to clean their hands too.

If you leave the hospital before your staples are taken out, you’ll get instructions about when to see your family doctor to take them out. Taking out the staples doesn’t hurt and is quick. If you have dissolvable stitches, they don’t have to be taken out.

When you leave the hospital, you’ll probably still have small tapes on the cuts where your chest tube and pacing wires were. These should fall off in 5 to 7 days. If they don’t, gently lift the edges and pull forward to take them off.

  • You can shower whenever you wish. No baths or going in a hot tub until your doctor says it’s okay.
  • Make sure the shower has a non-slip floor. You can sit on a small chair or stool while you take your shower. It’s a good idea to have someone nearby the first time you shower at home in case you need help.
  • Make sure the water isn’t too hot as it can make you dizzy or weak.
  • Don’t soak your incisions—let the water flow gently over them.
  • Clean your incisions with a soft cloth and mild soap and water. Gently pat your incision dry—don’t rub them.
  • Don’t use powders, lotions, or creams—not even vitamin E—on your incisions.
  • Check your incisions every day for signs of infection. It’s normal for incisions to:
    • look slightly red
    • feel tender, uneven, bumpy, numb, tight, like they’re pulling, or itchy
    • drain a small amount of clear or yellow fluid

Managing Your Weight

Weigh yourself every day at the same time each day. Call your doctor right away if

  • you gain more than 3 pounds (1.5 kg) over 3 days
  • your ankles are swelling

Deep Breathing and Coughing

If you got an incentive spirometer to take home, keep using it until your follow-up visit with your heart surgeon. If you don’t have an incentive spirometer, keep doing your deep breathing and coughing exercises.

Sleep and Rest

You’ll find you get tired easily during the first 6 to 8 weeks after surgery. Get as much rest as you can. Get enough sleep and take naps. This helps you get your strength back.

Try to get 8 hours of sleep every night. Sleep longer if you can. Taking pain medicine just before bedtime may help you sleep more comfortably.

  • Nap or rest at least once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
  • Rest after each activity, whether you’re tired or not.
  • Put your feet up when you’re sitting. Put pillows under your legs when you sleep to keep your legs and feet from swelling.
  • If grafts were taken from your arm or legs, keep the arm or leg raised when sitting, lying, or sleeping to keep swelling down. You’ll need to do this for at least 3 months.
  • Sleep on your back if possible. You might sleep more comfortably in a recliner or in bed with several pillows for the first few weeks.
  • If you sleep best on your side, support yourself at a 45° angle by using wedge or pillow behind your back.
  • You may have odd or bad dreams for a short time. Talk with your family doctor if you’re concerned.

Bacterial Endocarditis

If your heart valve was repaired or replaced or you had a heart defect repaired, you’re at a higher risk for bacterial endocarditis.

Bacterial endocarditis is an infection of the inside lining of the heart. This can cause the lining of the heart and the valves to become swollen and inflamed. It can happen when germs enter the bloodstream.

  • Don’t have routine dental work for at least 6 months after your heart surgery.
  • If you have to have emergency dental surgery, be sure to let your dentist know you have had recent heart surgery.
  • Keep doing good mouth care.

You’ll get a bacterial endocarditis wallet card at the hospital. Always carry it with you and show it to your dentist, family doctor, or any other doctor you go to.

Remind your doctors and dentists every time you see them that you had a heart valve repaired or replaced or a heart defect repaired. Ask if you need antibiotics before any procedure to lower your risk of infection.

Some symptoms of bacterial endocarditis can be mistaken for the flu:

  • unexplained fever
  • fatigue (feeling very tired)
  • rash
  • muscle aches and pains

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