Vanderbilt Heart

When to call your doctor

These are warning signs of infection and other problems:

  • Fever over 100.2º F
  • Unexplained chills, fainting or severe headache
  • Sudden weight gain (5 pounds or more in 1 week)
  • Chest pain (angina)
  • Increased swelling, redness, or bruising around incision
  • Drainage from an incision or an incision opens
  • Shortness of breath that doesn't go away with rest
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea

 

Recovering After Heart Surgery

The time it takes to return to normal after heart surgery is different for each patient.  You will slowly regain your strength over the course of a few weeks.  Plan to spend your first day at home resting, and each day after that you will feel a little stronger. You will have good days and bad days, but remember to be patient.  It is also normal to feel depressed, angry, or afraid after heart surgery, and talking to someone about these feelings can help. 

Taking your medicine
Your doctor may prescribe you medicine after heart surgery. It's very important to take medicine as directed. Keeping a chart or putting your pills in a 7-day pill box may help you stay on track. 

Move carefully
Your breastbone takes 4 to 6 weeks to heal properly, so move gently. Most movements will not slow healing or cause your breastbone any damage, but you may feel pain or hear a clicking sound. Some tips:

  • Turn with your entire body, and face the object instead of twisting your upper body.
  • Try to keep items you use most at waist level to avoid bending down or reaching when possible. 
  • Avoid heavy lifting.
  • Take care when sitting down, standing up, and getting in and out of bed.

Pace yourself
Moving around helps you to regain strength and keeps your spirits up, but take it slow. Doing too much will make you tire more easily. Relax between activities, and get plenty of rest. Slow down if you feel any of these symptoms:

  • A dull ache, tightness, or increased pain in your chest, arms, or shoulders
  • Pounding or fluttering of your heartbeat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Feeling very tired, dizzy or faint

Exercising
Excersise is one of the best ways to regain your strength after heart surgery. You can start by walking for a few minutes several times a day. Increase your speed over 8 to 10 weeks, and slowly build up to walking 25 to 30 minutes a day. Riding a stationary bike is another good exercise to try. Set the resistance to a low level, and keep your upper body upright and relaxed as you pedal. Start by pedaling for 5 to 6 minutes a day. You may feel weak or stiff and tire easily at first, but go slowly.  Build up your time and speed gradually.     

Driving
For your own safety and the safety of others, do not drive until your doctor gives you permission. Your reaction time is slower until you regain your strength, and the medicines you may be taking can also slow your reaction time. You could become dizzy or pass out behind the wheel, and if you were in a car accident, you could damage your breastbone. 

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