surgery

10 Things You Should Know Following Your Open Heart Surgery

Melanie Thomassian Health Pro June 17, 2010
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    Have you recently had open heart surgery? Or, perhaps your surgery is looming, and you're thinking about what life will be like post-surgery. Well, this article is just for you!

     

    As you already know, this is huge operation, and so the first few weeks after surgery are critical.

     

    Here are 10 things you should (and shouldn't) do after open heart surgery:

     

    #1 Your incision

    After open heart surgery, you will have an incision in the center of your chest. If the surgeon used a vein from your leg as a graft, you will also have an incision on your leg. Here are a few tips on incision care:

     

    • Keep the incisions clean and dry
    • Wash with a mild soap and warm water
    • Pat dry, but don't rub
    • Avoid using lotions or ointments
    • Check your incisions daily to ensure they are healing properly

     

    You may be wondering what is normal, and what's not normal after surgery — normal findings for a healing incision include:

     

    • Numbness around the incision
    • Itching around the incision
    • Scabbing
    • Slight redness

     

    Abnormal findings for a healing incision — these should be reported to your doctor:

     

    • Increased tenderness at the incision site
    • Increased redness at the incision site
    • Swelling around the incision site
    • Drainage coming from the incision site
    • Fever

     

    #2 Medications

    As always, it's important to take any prescribed medications exactly as your doctor instructs. 

     

    If you think you are having a reaction to the medication, report this to your doctor right away, but don't not stop taking your medications without letting them know first. 

     

    #3 Sleep

    It's very common to have trouble sleeping after open heart surgery. This may be the result of incision pain, or it may be caused by stress, or other factors relating to your surgery. Regardless, a good night's sleep helps with proper healing. 

     

    Here are a few tips to help you get a good nights sleep:

     

    • Take your pain medication half an hour to one hour before bedtime
    • Avoid caffeine in the evenings
    • Use several pillows to help you get as comfortable as possible
    • Listen to some light music, if that helps you relax

     

    You should also try to get a nap/rest in the middle of the day for the first few weeks.

     

    #4 Household chores

    Your activity will be limited during the first few weeks.

     

    You can do light household chores if you wish, but standing in one place for longer than 15 minutes isn't recommended. You also shouldn't vacuum or lift heavy items for the first few weeks — so, why not sit back and put your feet up for a change!

     

    #5 Driving

    You will need to let someone else drive you around for the first 4-6 weeks after your surgery. 

     

    #6 Stress  

    Stress can cause your heart rate to increase, which may be dangerous. I know, it isn't always possible, but do try to avoid getting stressed during your recovery period. 

     

     

    # Mental health

    It is common after heart surgery to feel sad or have low mood. These feelings should go away after the first few weeks — your friends and family are really important at these times.

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    But, if these feelings don't go away after a few weeks, visit your doctor for further advice.

     

     

    #8 Diet

    Your diet is vitally important now, more so than ever. Here are some tips to follow:

     

    • Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables
    • Increase your protein intake, in the form of lean meats and legumes, to promote healing
    • Get some healthy fats into your diet by choosing olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, and oily fish
    • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated

     

    #9 Exercise

    You may think exercise should be avoided after surgery, but it is very important. The best type of exercise you can do right now is to walk. Try to get out walking every day, then gradually increase the distance and the pace as you feel up to it. 

     

    Your doctor will tell you when other forms of exercise are safe to do. 

     

    #10 Ask for help

    While you may want to maintain your independence, asking for help is a good idea.

     

    In the weeks following your open heart surgery it's completely normal to feel a little confused, so it may be a good idea to get someone to help with medications, remembering appointments, and housework or cooking. A friend or family member may even like to go walking with you for extra moral support.

     

    While things may seem overwhelming at present, remember that with a little time, life will begin to get back to normal again — you will soon be able to enjoy all of your normal activities.

     

    Melanie Thomassian is a registered dietitian and author of Dietriffic.com. Check out her blog and download her latest free report.