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Breathing and Coughing Exercises After Heart Surgery


WRITTEN BY: UPMC
Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

After your heart surgery, your doctor and recovery team will give you a number of exercises to do on a regular basis that will help you get back to feeling like your old self again. Here you will find information about breathing and coughing exercises that will help to speed your recovery.

Deep Breathing and Coughing Exercises

A respiratory therapist or nurse will teach you how to do breathing and coughing exercises. These exercises are important to help rid your lungs of mucus after your surgery. Mucus makes it easier for bacteria to grow.

Breathing Aids

You will be checked to see which kinds of breathing aids you may need. You may need supplemental oxygen or breathing treatments.

Your care team will help you to walk, deep breathe, and cough often. If you are doing these exercises in the hospital, a member of the care team may “clap” your back with cupped hands to help break up thick mucus in your lungs so that it can be more easily removed. This is called chest physiotherapy, or chest PT. These efforts will help your lungs to work better. You will be taught about any breathing care that you may need to continue at home.

Please tell the respiratory therapist or your nurse if you were getting respiratory therapy at home. For example, you may have been getting the following at home:

  • Breathing medicines
  • Breathing treatments
  • Home oxygen
  • BiPAP
  • CPAP

You may need to continue these treatments during your hospital stay.

RELATED: Why Is My Voice Hoarse?

Tools to Help With Your Recovery

Breathing treatments are medicines that are inhaled. They help to open the airways so that you can breathe freely. They also aid in removing mucus. You will be given the treatments that fit your specific needs.

The incentive spirometer and Acapella® tool will help you to keep your lungs expanded, remove mucus, and aid with coughing. Your doctor and respiratory therapist will decide which of these tools is best for you. You will be taught how to use either an incentive spirometer or an Acapella® tool, and your care team will continue to assist you with using it properly.

Incentive Spirometer

  • Cough two to three times to clear mucus or secretions.
  • Place the mouthpiece in your mouth and seal your lips tightly around it.
  • Breathe in slowly and as deeply as possible, raising the piston toward the top of the column.
  • Hold your breath as long as possible (at least 5 seconds).
  • Exhale, allowing the piston to fall to the bottom of the column.
  • Do this exercise for at least 10 breaths every hour when you are awake.
  • Cough two to three times to clear secretions.

Acapella® Tool

  • Take a deep breath.
  • Place the mouthpiece in your mouth and seal your lips around it. Inhale.
  • Exhale actively, but not forcefully.
  • Do this exercise for at least 10 breaths every hour when you are awake.
  • Cough two to three times to clear secretions.

These exercises may seem like a lot to remember, but your doctor, nurses, and respiratory therapists will make sure you learn them and let you know what should feel normal. Don’t hesitate to ask them questions about what you can expect on your road to recovery. To learn more about heart surgery at UPMC, check out our What to Expect: Heart Surgery booklet.

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A $14 billion world-renowned health care provider and insurer, Pittsburgh-based UPMC is inventing new models of patient-centered, cost-effective, accountable care. UPMC provides nearly $900 million a year in benefits to its communities, including more care to the region’s most vulnerable citizens than any other health care institution. The largest nongovernmental employer in Pennsylvania, UPMC integrates 65,000 employees, more than 25 hospitals, more than 600 doctors’ offices and outpatient sites, and a more than 3 million-member Insurance Services Division, the largest medical and behavioral health services insurer in western Pennsylvania. Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences, UPMC Read More