Cardiac Bypass Surgery

Recovering From Cardiac Bypass Surgery

Need To Know:

The usual length of hospital stay after bypass surgery is 3 to 7 days. It takes about 4 to 6 weeks to recover following surgery, and about 6 weeks to return to normal activity, though it takes about 12 weeks for the breastbone to heal.

The Intensive Care Unit (ICU) will be the first stop after surgery. You will wake up a few hours after the operation, but may feel tired or groggy for a day or two.

Early in your recovery, a ventilator (respirator) will help you to breathe and will make sure your blood gets the right amount of oxygen. Your arms may be in soft restraints to prevent you from pulling out any tubes or IV lines in your sleep.


There will be a tube in the throat called an endotracheal tube, or an ET tube. It is left in until you are able to breathe on your own, usually the night after surgery or first thing the following day. You will hear a respirator in the background, as it helps breathing.

There will be other tubes in place after surgery, including tubes into your chest and your bladder, as well as your veins and heart. Most of them will be removed during the first day.

Intravenous tubes will still be in place, and medications are given through these. The medications will be given at very controlled rates by pumps.

During Postoperative Recovery

By the end of the day after surgery, most patients are taken off the respirator, and most of the tubes are removed. You will probably be able to sit on the edge of the bed and even walk a few steps. If your condition is stable, you will be moved to the ECG monitored area.

In the monitored area a system will constantly track and measure your heart function. One-third of all patients having heart surgery will have irregularity in the heartbeat, which usually requires treatment with drugs for about six weeks. Don’t be unduly concerned if you feel a fast or irregular heartbeat, but let the medical team know if you feel anything strange. Thanks to the monitors, your nurses may be aware of irregularities before you are, and will take care of it.

The Incentive Spirometer

An incentive spirometer is a device that causes the lungs to fill with as much air as possible. This reduces the risk of pneumonia, and will help breathing in general. Using the spirometer may trigger a cough. It may hurt a little, but your incision will not come apart. The nurse will show you how to use a pillow to help with coughing.

Walking After Surgery

Walking is one of the most important steps to recovery. The medical staff will help you get started. Try to stay out of bed as much as possible, because the more you walk, the sooner you will recover. If a vein was taken from your leg, it may hurt, and you may have back pain, especially if the internal thoracic or mammary artery was used for bypass. If you have pain, talk to the medical staff. But keep walking!

The Final Days Of Hospital Stay

After two days in the monitored section, if you are eating well and able to go to the bathroom, you will be transferred to the non-monitored area. Just before transfer, someone will remove the temporary pacing wires from your chest that were placed during surgery.

The stay in the non-monitored section of the hospital will help you to gain more strength and improve your appetite. Most patients stay between two and four days. Don’t be surprised or alarmed if you tire easily. It is a normal part of the recovery.


Throughout the hospital stay, nurses and others will give you information to support recovery. Group sessions with other patients and families are common, and can provide an opportunity to talk over the experience with others.

Instruction will cover exercise, diet and general activities after surgery. Remember, heart surgery does not cure coronary artery disease. It only manages the problem. Your lifestyle choices after the operation may determine your quality of life and perhaps its length.

Going Home

Most people are discharged five to seven days after surgery. You will be given prescriptions to take home, plus information on other pills you will need, such as aspirin to help prevent blood clots, iron tablets, and vitamins. There may be additional medications depending on your other medical problems. If you are not completely clear on your medications or follow-up plan, review it with the medical team.

Unless you have diabetes and need to control your glucose levels, you can eat your usual moderate diet for the first few weeks. About four weeks after surgery, beginning to adjusting your diet can help to control weight and cholesterol levels, which may help prevent future heart problems.

It is common to gain some weight after surgery. This is because fluid collects in the tissues. Your feet may be swollen, especially on the side where the veins were taken for the bypasses. Several days later when the fluid has been released from your body, you may find that you have lost a considerable amount of weight.

Care Of The Incisions

Your surgeon will give you instructions about keeping the incisions clean, and watching for problems. Call if there are any signs of infection such as:

  • Redness
  • An increase in pain
  • Fluid coming from the wound
  • Fever

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