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What to Expect After Heart Surgery

Each individual patient responds to surgery differently. You are unique! And recovery from each specific surgical procedure, whether a coronary artery bypass for "clogged arteries" or a valve repair/replacement for a narrow or leaky valve, is somewhat different as well. Despite these differences, however, some generalizations can be made. The material presented here was modified from the Discharge Instructions for Heart Surgery Patients developed by the Barnes-Jewish Hospital CABG Patient Satisfaction Team.

It's Perfectly Normal to...

  • Not have much appetite. It takes several weeks for your appetite to return. Many patients notice that their sense of taste is diminished or almost absent. It will return. Some patients even complain of nausea at the smell of food for a week or two after surgery.
  • Have some swelling, especially if you have an incision in your leg. That leg will tend to swell more for some time. Elevating your legs will help. Wear your elastic TED hose if they were prescribed for you.
  • Have difficulty sleeping at night. You may find it difficult to fall asleep, or you may find that you wake up at 2:00 or 3:00am and cannot fall back to sleep. This will improve. Taking a pain pill before bed sometimes helps.
  • Have problems with constipation. You may use a laxative of your choice. Add more fruits, fiber and juice in your diet.
  • Have mood swings and feel depressed. You may have good days and bad days. Do not become discouraged. This will get better.
  • Have a lump at the top of your incision. This will disappear with time.
  • Notice an occasional "clicking noise" or sensation in your chest in the first days after surgery. This should occur less often with time and go away completely within the first couple of weeks. If it gets worse, call your surgeon.
  • Experience muscle pain or tightness in your shoulders and upper back between your shoulder blades. This will get better with time. Your pain medicine will also help relieve this discomfort.
  • Remember it takes 4 to 6 weeks to start feeling better.
  • Remember to take all your medicines as prescribed by your doctor.
  • If an artery in your chest, called the mammary artery, was used during your surgery, you may experience numbness to the left of your incision. This is normal.
  • If you have steri-strips on you incision, you may remove any that have not already fallen off after 1 week.
  • Follow you exercise program given to you by your physical therapist in the hospital.

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