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Recovery at Home After Your Heart Surgery

Your heart surgery is complete, and you are finally able to go home.

You have spent some time recovering in the hospital, but you will have to continue taking care of yourself at home. It may be a bit of an adjustment to go from your normal routine to adjusting your activities after heart surgery, but it can be done.

Here are some general steps to follow while you heal from your heart surgery. Recovery involves both physical and emotional healing.

Activity

After heart surgery, your body must heal for several weeks. The best way to regain your normal activities at home is to use a slow, progressive plan. Over time you should be able to do routine household tasks, take part in recreational activity, and return to work.

  • Get up and get dressed each morning. Don’t stay in bed.
  • Wear casual or comfortable clothes each day to help you get back into a regular daily routine.
  • Break up long tasks into shorter parts, and space them over the day.
  • Stop your tasks before you get tired. If you do too much, you’ll likely be tired the next day and need to rest.

Rest

During the day, balance your activity with rest times. Your body may give you signals that show you need to rest. These signals include symptoms such as:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Pain
  • Discomfort

Try to plan ahead for short rest times so you will not become too tired.

Stairs

You may climb stairs. Be sure to go slowly at first. Take your time. Remember that it takes more energy to climb stairs than to walk. If you become tired or short of breath as you climb, stop, rest, and then continue. Use the stair railing only for balance. Do not pull yourself up the stairs.

Driving

Do not drive a car until after your visit with your surgeon. This office visit is most often four weeks after surgery. A car accident could hurt your breast bone (sternum). You may ride in a car. Either ride in the back seat, or if riding in the front seat, move the seat back as far as possible. Use a pillow between your chest and the seat belt for comfort and to avoid irritation. Do not take long trips until your doctor says you may. When you are allowed to travel, it’s important to stop frequently to walk and stretch your legs.

Bathing

Shower daily. Do not take tub baths. Avoid very hot water, which may make you feel dizzy or light-headed. Try to have another person nearby the first few times you take a shower. Avoid scrubbing your wound. After showering, you may want to take a short rest before you dress. This will help to prevent you from tiring out.

Sex

Many patients are worried about resuming sex after surgery. It often depends on how you feel physically and mentally. Most doctors agree on these guidelines: When you can climb two flights of stairs without getting too tired or short of breath, you are physically able to resume sex.

Feelings

Recovering from heart surgery also involves emotional healing. Remember that healing takes time. You will have good days and bad days. As you increase your daily activity, follow your exercise plan and get plenty of rest. In this way, you will help yourself on the road to emotional recovery.

During this time, you are likely to feel different kinds of feelings. You may feel fear, anger, denial, frustration, and sadness. If you go through this, it’s important to realize that these feelings are very normal. Not only our bodies, but also our feelings go through a time of adjustment with a change in our health.

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