What to Expect After Heart Operation

Medically reviewed by Cary S. Huber, MD McLeod Cardiothoracic Surgical Associates

 What to Expect After Your Operation

Larry King, best known for his long-running cable interview show “Larry King Live,” at the age of 54 suffered a serious heart attack. Shortly afterward he underwent a quintuple bypass surgery. The experience led him to not only make serious changes in his own life, but to also inspired him to help others with heart disease by sharing his experiences in his book “Mr. King, You’re Having a Heart Attack”.

Your days, weeks and months after heart surgery are certainly a time of physical recuperation and rehabilitation. The post-surgery period can hold emotional challenges, as well. So, let’s tackle that side of your recovery plan first.

Anxiety & Depression. Researchers say that 1 in 5 patients hospitalized for a heart problem (heart attack or surgery) experience major depression. Another study revealed that anxiety (extreme worry) is as common as depression in recovering heart patients. It’s understandable. There are plenty of things to be anxious about – your job, your sex life, another heart attack. Report these emotional symptoms to your physician and see a mental health counselor for help if the symptoms persist.

Post Surgery Medical Issues. Expect soreness in your chest, back, shoulders, arms, or legs. You could experience weakness, occasional dizziness, poor appetite, and a low-grade fever. This is part of the healing process. Expect to have some swelling in your face, hands, feet or legs.

It’s Normal. In addition to mood swings, you may lack an appetite for a few weeks, you might experience swelling in your legs and difficulty sleeping at night. Elevating your legs or wearing compression stockings will help. A pain pill before bed might help you get to sleep.

Cardiac Rehabilitation. A team of professionals – physicians, nurses, nutritionists and specially trained exercise therapists – stand ready to get you back into shape and return you to a normal life. Their work may begin while you are still in the hospital, helping you learn how to stop smoking, eat healthier, and control your weight.

After you get home. In the first 6 weeks at home you should be able to climb stairs (rest on the way if you need to), walk outside or on a treadmill, ride as a passenger in the car, attend church or sporting events, and get back to hobbies, such as reading, needlework or cards. After 6 weeks, you might return to work part-time (on your doctor’s advice), drive a car, do some light aerobics, travel, and resume hobbies such as fishing, boating or gardening. Depending on the type of work, you may be able to return sooner or might need to wait longer. Rely on your physician’s advice.

Is Depression Normal? “It is not uncommon to have some depression after surgery,” says McLeod Cardiothoracic Surgeon Dr. S. Cary Huber. “You may feel moody, irritable, emotional and angry. This is normal. It will get better over time. Express your feelings to your family and loved ones. If this persists or becomes a problem, contact your primary care physician.”
Find a Cardiologist near you.

Find a Cardiothoracic Surgeon near you.
Sources: McLeod Health; National Institutes of Health; American College of Cardiology; Ohio State University Medical Center; Mended Hearts, Inc.; Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; Society of Thoracic Surgeons; American Heart Association