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Heart or cardiac surgery is usually performed to treat some serious conditions like congenital heart disease, valvular heart disease, and ischemic heart disease. It can be done to repair or replace the valves, widen the narrowed or blocked arteries, repair aneurysms, make channels in the heart muscle, or to implant a device to control heart rhythm.

Recovering After Heart Surgery

Basically, heart surgery can be either open or a minimally invasive surgery, depending on how it is performed. The recovery time for the minimally invasive surgery or robot-assisted heart surgery is usually shorter than that of the open heart surgery. This is because, open heart surgery requires to make a much larger incision in the chest so that the surgeon can put his or her hands inside. But the minimally invasive surgery requires only a few small holes to be made on the chest, as the hands of the robot are much smaller.

In Hospital
The patient can experience a lot of discomforts and inconvenience following the surgery, which however should eventually go away with time. After the surgery, the patient is usually transferred to the intensive care unit (ICU). On waking up, the patient can feel a little bit of discomfort in the chest or the throat, which is quite normal. During this period, all the breathing equipment and tubes will be in place, for which the patient may find a bit difficulty in breathing properly.

The breathing tubes and equipment are removed, only when the physician feels that the patient could breathe without them. If the recovery process goes well, then these artificial breathing equipment are removed after a day or two following the surgery. Within two to three days after the surgery, the patient is shifted from ICU to general ward. In the meantime, medications are administered to relieve the pain and prevent infections. Nowadays, patients are usually advised to mobilize a bit, in order to prevent complications following the surgery. Usually, a physical therapist provides guidance regarding how to move the body without causing any pain or discomfort.

After Leaving the Hospital
At the time of releasing the patient from the hospital, the physician or surgeon provides the complete guidelines regarding post-operative care, which includes how to care for the incision, how to take shower, what medications can be taken, and what activities can be performed. One should strictly follow these instructions to ensure quick recovery, and avoid the possible complications. Usually, the first phase of recovery lasts for about 6 to 8 weeks. During this period, one has to be very particular about keeping the incisions dry and clean. For cleaning the area, soap and water can be used.

However, the use of any kind of ointments or salves without the permission of your physician, should be strictly avoided. While taking a shower, one should stand with his or her back to the shower spray, so as to not soak the sutures. As far as the water temperature is concerned, one can use slightly warm water, but extremely hot or cold water should be avoided. During the healing process, if you observe oozing from the incisions, or the incisions look red or feel warm, and if the opening of the incision line seems to have increased, then inform your health care provider immediately.

To relieve the discomforts and prevent the complications associated with heart surgery, your physician can prescribe a number of medications. Itching, as well as minor pain in the area while moving or doing any activity are completely normal during the recovery process. However, in the case of heart bypass surgery, one can feel a lot of pain in the legs. Simple activities like walking slowly, can help alleviate the pain. If the pain becomes intolerable, then talk to your physician regarding the use of pain medications. Apart from pain medications, your physician may give you antibiotics, blood thinning medications, and beta blockers.

During the recovery period, i.e., for the first six to eight weeks, patients can perform simple activities like taking a slow walk or doing simple household chores that do not put much strain on the body. But lifting or pushing heavy objects should be strictly avoided during this period. Activities that require you to stand for a prolonged time period, or those that demand the arms to be held above the shoulder level for a long time, should be avoided during the recovery period. As far as the diet is concerned, your physician will give special diet instructions regarding what food to eat and what to avoid.

If all goes well, then one can expect to resume his or her regular activities within a few months. After evaluating the process of recovery, a physician or health care provider can tell you when you can return to your work. To ensure faster recovery, one should stick to the advice and instructions given by his or her physician. If any of the signs of infection appears or if the patient experiences palpitations, dizziness, fever or chills, shortness of breath, and severe pain in the incision site during the recovery process, then the physician should be informed immediately.

Disclaimer: This Buzzle article is for informative purposes only, and should not be replaced for the advice of a medical professional.