What to Expect While Recovering From Open Heart Surgery

3 minute read

If you are planning to have open heart surgery or have recently undergone heart bypass surgery, it is important to know what you should and should not do during the recovery period. In most cases, this is a 4 to 8 week period, though it may be slightly shorter if your procedure was only minimally invasive.

Pain Control

While your pain will continue long after you have been discharged from the hospital, it is possible to control the pain. Your physician will send you home with pain medication that you should take as needed and prescribed to alleviate your discomfort. Be aware that everything- breathing, laughing, sneezing, and coughing-is likely to cause pain as your chest bone (sternum) heals. However, it should subside within 6 weeks. Be alert for signs of constipation while taking pain medicine, as it is a common side effect.


While recovering from heart surgery, you should absolutely not lift anything that weighs more than 5 pounds. This includes children, grandchildren, and pets. However, you should begin exercising. Your physician may order you to attend a cardiac rehab program, which you should attend per his or her instructions. While at home, get up and walk around for at least 5 to 10 minutes every hour while you are awake. Don't be afraid to go outside for a quick walk, though it is a good idea to take someone with you and take frequent breaks. Exercise will be a continuing requirement after your open heart surgery, so the sooner you begin a regimen, the better off your will be.


You will need to rest frequently throughout the day, but do not fall into the habit of taking long naps. This will make it almost impossible to sleep during the night and will wreak havoc on your sleep schedule.

Diet and Medications

It is entirely normal to have very little appetite during the first few weeks after surgery. However, it is important that you adhere to a heart friendly diet and eat as much as possible to prevent excessive weight loss. Your physician may prescribe an iron supplement. Take it with food for the best results.

You will come home with multiple medications. Before leaving the hospital, be sure you know exactly what you are taking, when it should be taken, and why you are taking it. You should take them exactly as directed.

Continuing Care

For at least three months after your heart bypass surgery, you can expect to make regular visits to the cardiologist. In addition, you may be visited by a home health nurse who will monitor the surgical site, as well as check your vital signs and even perform lab work, if needed.

Your Emotional Needs

It is entirely normal to feel depressed, irritated, anxious, or angry after your open heart surgery. However, this isn't going to benefit you. You have gone through the hardest part. Now, it is up to you to make the necessary lifestyle changes to maintain your cardiac health.


  1. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002950.htm
  2. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/HeartValveProblemsandDisease/Heart-Valve-Surgery-Recovery-and-Follow-Up_UCM_450700_Article.jsp
  3. http://simplehand.org/heart-surgery/recovering-from-open-heart-surgery.html