Health A-Z

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After your surgery, you'll be taken to a recovery area or intensive care unit. You'll regain consciousness (wake up) after the anesthesia wears off. You may not be able to move your legs or arms at first, but your body and mind will soon become coordinated again. Your family may visit you briefly in the recovery area.

During your hospital stay, you'll have tubes and wires attached to parts of your body. These give you drugs and fluids, withdraw blood samples and monitor your blood pressure. You'll also have:

  • One or more tubes in your chest. They drain fluid that builds up during and after the operation.

  • Small patches or electrodes on your chest. They send information to monitors watched by the nursing staff.

  • A tube in your mouth. This helps you breathe until you can breathe on your own. It is usually removed within 24 hours of the operation.

  • A tube in your bladder. This drains urine until you can go to the bathroom on your own.

You'll spend the first two or three days in the intensive care unit. When constant monitoring is no longer needed, you'll be moved to a regular or transitional care unit.

Once your breathing tube is removed, you'll be able to swallow liquids. You'll begin a regular diet as soon as you feel up to it. You also can get out of bed, sit in a chair and walk around the room as soon as you are able. You can have sponge baths right away, and shower and shampoo in a few days.

Expect some discomfort in your chest where the incision was made. You'll be given medication to relieve the pain. The incision in your chest and leg (if a vein was removed) also may feel itchy, sore, numb or bruised.

After surgery, you may develop a low-grade fever, which may cause heavy perspiration during the night or even during the day. This may last two or three days.

In the hospital, you'll be told to practice deep breathing exercises and to cough. These are important to speed your recovery. Coughing reduces the chances of pneumonia and fever. Most patients are afraid to cough after surgery, but it won't hurt your incision or the bypass. If you feel discomfort, hold a pillow over your chest. You also should change positions in bed often because lying on your back for long periods isn't good for your lungs.

You'll probably stay in the hospital four to six days. The length of time depends on your health before your surgery and whether you experience any complications afterward.

Once you are home, it usually takes a week to start to feel better. It's common to feel weak when you return home. It will likely take another four to six weeks before you regain your energy level. You may experience:

  • Decreased appetite. It could be several weeks before your appetite returns to normal.

  • Leg swelling, if the graft was removed from your leg. You can reduce swelling by elevating your leg and wearing support stockings. Walking helps blood to circulate in your legs and also helps your heart.

  • Difficulty sleeping. This will improve. Taking a pain pill before going to bed sometimes helps.

  • Constipation. You may use a laxative. Be sure to add more fruit, fiber and juice to your diet.

  • Mood swings. You'll have good and bad days. Don't become discouraged. Your mood will get better.

Your doctor will tell you what need immediate emergency attention, such as chest pain similar to the angina you had before surgery. The doctor also will tell you what complaints you should report to the doctor's office, such as worsening ankle swelling or leg pain.

The American Heart Association recommends these guidelines for recovery at home:

  • Get up at a normal hour.

  • Bathe or shower if possible.

  • Always dress in regular clothes.

  • Rest in the mid-morning and mid-afternoon or after any activity.

  • Take walks of a few blocks as permitted by your doctor.

  • Remember that the ability to do more comes with time.

  • Don't lift objects weighing 5 pounds or more for at least four weeks after surgery. Your chest incision and breastbone need time to heal. You may, however, help with light housework. Don't start heavier lifting without discussing this first with your doctor.

  • You can go to the movies, church and out shopping.

  • It's best to wait a few weeks to drive, although you can be a passenger at any time.

You may resume sex four weeks after the operation.

When you return to work depends on how your recovery is going, the type of work you do and your age. If you have a sedentary job (such as sitting at a desk most of the day), you could return to work in four to six weeks. If you have a physically demanding job, you may have to wait longer or, in some cases, find another type of work.

You may begin a cardiac rehabilitation program before you leave the hospital or up to 6 weeks after your discharge. After you leave the hospital, participating in a program usually requires a doctor's referral. Most programs meet 3 or more times a week for 12 weeks. Each meeting lasts about an hour.

Surgery will improve blood flow to your heart, but it will not prevent coronary artery disease from coming back. You have to change your lifestyle to reduce this risk.

  • If you smoke, stop and avoid others' tobacco smoke.

  • If you have high blood pressure, have it treated.

  • Lower your LDL cholesterol. You will probably need to take a statin drug.

  • Eat more fruit, vegetables and fish.

  • East less saturated fat and cholesterol.

  • Exercise slowly build up to a total of 30 to 60 minutes for 3 or 4 days a week.

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Your doctor can give you a weight range.

  • If you have diabetes, keep it under control.

  • Manage stress in your life. Try to avoid situations that you know may anger you.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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