Patient Education

Common, Normal Experiences After Heart Surgery

To ease your fears or concerns and to promote healing, it is important for you to understand some of the immediate issues and what you may expect. The following is a list of common, normal experiences that you may encounter after heart surgery. Patients who have had heart surgery have shared this information with us.

Forgetfulness, inability to concentrate (while reading, watching TV, etc.)

Reasons: Effect of heart-lung machine, anesthesia, stress, lack of sleep, narcotic pain medication.
What helps? Write things down, rest between activities, take naps, review information in this booklet.

Feeling sad, stressed, or depressed is common for heart patients. Easy frustration and anger is common also. May last for 2-3 months. If you continue to feel depressed after 2 months, call your doctor.

Reasons: Fatigue, stress, role changes, temporary activity restrictions, boredom.
What helps?  Get dressed every morning, get out and walk daily, rest between physical activities, take naps, participate in appropriate hobbies and social activities, spiritual/prayer time, share your feelings with family/friend.

Stress has been linked as a cause of coronary heart disease. It is important to minimize your stress.

Reasons: Lack of sleep, fear, anxiety, pain, noise, fatigue, loss of control, caffeine/
What helps? Quiet time, manage your time, relaxation/controlled breathing, pursue a hobby, watching a comedy, listening to music, talking with someone who is positive, spiritual/prayer time, set realistic goals that you can accomplish each day. Keep health problem such as high blood pressure and diabetes under control. Seek professional help if needed.

It is common to wake up often during the night, to have nightmares or lively dreams, and to be unable to lie flat in bed.

Reason:  Most likely it is due to stress of surgery as well as discomfort from incision.
What Helps? Short daytime naps but try to avoid naps in late afternoon. Using extra pillows or a recliner may help you to breathe better so that you may sleep more comfortably. Continue using your incentive spirometer/deep breathe and cough.

It is not unusual to have some vision changes. You may experience moving or non-moving spots or lines, flashes of light, blurred vision, or floaters. They usually come and go.

Reason: the effects of the heart-lung machine.
How long? It should improve in about 1 week. If no improvement, see an ophthalmologist. It is best not to make changes in prescription glasses until after your recovery.

Incisions may be sensitive even to light touch. Some patients complain of shooting pain, numbness, tingling or burning to the right or left side of the chest and/or leg incisions. Some complain of numbness, tingling, weakness of the little and ring fingers, going up the arm to the elbow. Muscular aches and pains in the neck, shoulders, and back are also common.

Reason: Positioning on the operating table during surgery may cause pressure on the nerves in the arms. Additionally, bed rest and decreased activity levels may also cause muscle aches.
What helps?  Actively using the hand may be helpful for arm and hand pain.  Gradually increase physical activities as suggested in discharge instructions. A heating pad placed on sore muscles for no longer than 20 minutes at a time for other muscle aches may help. Do not place heating pad on incisions. For women, placing a dressing over the chest incision where it comes in contact with a bra will reduce the friction on the incision.

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