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Preparing for Your Heart Surgery

Even if you’ve lived with a heart condition for many years, it can be frightening when the day comes and your doctor tells you that you need surgery to correct the problem. Surgery can be an overwhelming experience — not only for you, but for your family, as well. If you know what you can expect going into heart surgery and what will follow afterwards, it can help you put your mind at ease. Here are the steps you can take to feel ready for your upcoming heart surgery.

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Meeting Your Health Care Team

A member of the heart surgery team will meet with you and your family. Your surgeon will talk to you about the type of treatment that is best for you. At the meeting, a member of the team will ask you some questions about your health in the past.

They will also ask you about the medicines you are taking. Here are some tips:

  • Tell your team about all medicines, vitamins, herbal supplements, and other over–the–counter medicines you are taking. Unless your doctor tells you not to, it is okay to take aspirin up to the day of the surgery. All other blood-thinning medicines must be stopped earlier.
  • Talk with your surgeon about the best time for you to stop taking these medicines. It is very important to tell the team about any allergic reactions you have ever had to medicine or anesthesia. This will help them to give you safe and proper care during and after surgery.

Testing Before Surgery

You will have certain tests before your surgery. The tests may involve:

  • Urine and blood tests
  • Chest x-ray
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG)

Your surgeon may order other tests based on your health history.

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 surgery. Mucus makes it easier for bacteria to grow. The exercises will help to speed your recovery. You will learn how to use an incentive spirometer or Acapella® tool and do exercises to help you cough and deep breathe.

Quitting Smoking

If you smoke, please stop. Smoking will make it much harder for your wounds to heal, increase your chance of an infection, and slow your recovery. Smoking also places greater demands on your heart by raising your heart rate and blood pressure. Choose a quit method that you will stick with.

The Night Before Surgery

Personal care to prepare for surgery

Here are some important things you need to make sure you do before your surgery:

  • You will be taught to use a special soap to take a shower the evening before and the morning of your surgery.
  • Remove nail polish and makeup before coming to the hospital.
  • Avoid heavy meals or hard exercise the day before surgery. Follow any food or activity plans that your doctor has advised.
  • Women may bring a soft, non-wire bra for comfort after the surgery and to help with recovery.

Personal belongings

On the night before or the morning of your surgery, ask your family to take your personal belongings home. They can keep the few personal items you may need after your surgery (such as eyeglasses or hearing aids). After your surgery, the nurse in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) may get these items from your family in the waiting room.

After midnight

At home or in the hospital before your surgery, you must not eat or drink anything after midnight.

If you were told to do so, you may take your medicines with a small sip of water the morning of your surgery.

The Day of Surgery

Your family

Your family can be with you before you go to the operating room. If you are in the hospital, they should come to your room at least 2hours before surgery. If you are coming in for surgery on the same day, you will be asked to arrive early in the morning with special instructions for you and your family.

Going to the operating room

Before your surgery, you will be given medicine into a vein (IV) to make you relaxed and comfortable. This medicine may make your mouth and throat dry.

Waiting room

Your family will be shown to a comfortable waiting area. Surgery usually takes between 4 and 6 hours. It is important that your surgeon be able to reach your family at any time during surgery. If your family leaves the waiting room, they should tell the person at the desk where they are going and how long they will be gone. They should also leave a phone number where they can be reached.

To learn more about heart surgery at UPMC, check out our What to Expect: Heart Surgery booklet.