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Coronary Artery Bypass Graft Surgery: What to Expect After You Go Home

Topic Overview

Although you may return home a few days after the completion of your coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) procedure, it may take several months before you can return to all of the activities you enjoyed prior to surgery. Recovery from major surgery has both physical and emotional aspects.

For the first month or two after you are discharged from the hospital, you will be working to return to your presurgical level of activity. Your doctor will set goals for you to reach and will place restrictions on activities that would slow your recovery.

Physical aspects of recovery

The pace of your physical recovery will depend significantly on your health before you received bypass surgery. For example, if you had coronary artery disease (CAD) but no other medical conditions, it will probably take you less time to resume a normal activity level than if you are older or have other medical conditions.

Your recovery will take at least 4 to 6 weeks. During your recovery from CABG surgery, your life will probably be quite different from how it was before your surgery. The table below lists "normal" physical conditions after CABG surgery.

During CABG surgery recovery

It is normal to:

Why?

What can I do?

Not have much of an appetite.

The thought of food makes you feel nauseated, or you cannot taste anything.

  • Be patient. Your appetite will soon be back to normal.
  • Eat healthy foods.
  • Try eating frequent, small meals.

Have swelling in your arm or leg where blood vessels were removed.

You have incisions there as well as missing blood vessels that your surgeon used to bypass your coronary arteries.

  • Keep your swollen arm or leg elevated.
  • Wear support hose if ordered by your doctor.
  • Tell your doctor if it doesn't improve.

Have difficulty sleeping.

You are in pain and/or are not very physically active.

  • Take your pain medicine before you go to bed.
  • Try not to take naps during the day.

Have sore or tight muscles in your shoulders and upper back.

You were in the same position during your surgery and early recovery.

  • Be patient.
  • Take your pain medicine.
  • Try warm, moist packs and massage.

Have a lump over your incision.

Your skin and muscle are healing.

  • Do nothing.
  • Watch for signs of infection: redness, discharge, fever, and pain.

Be constipated.

It is a side effect of some medicines, and/or you are not very physically active.

  • Eat more fruits and foods with fiber.
  • Ask your doctor to recommend a laxative.

Emotional aspects of recovery

Recovering from CABG surgery means not only getting back your physical strength but also your emotional and mental well-being. The fatigue and pain you might be experiencing may make you feel depressed. You may:

  • Have mood swings.
  • Cry easily.
  • Feel afraid or anxious.
  • Get frustrated.
  • Be irritable.
  • Not be able to concentrate.
  • Have good days and bad days.

Also, limitations on your physical activity can leave you with few options to get out of the house and clear your head.

You should be aware that these feelings of depression are common for people who have had major heart surgery. You may also feel lonely and envious of other people who are living their lives without the discomfort and pain that you are experiencing right now.

Remember that you are going to start feeling better very soon. You are working to get back to your life—a life that may be more comfortable than before. Your new life is one with bypassed coronary arteries and more blood flowing to your heart. What this means for you is that you will not experience the chest pain, shortness of breath, or other symptoms that you had before.

It can be important to keep your family and friends around you during your recovery. They can go on walks with you or just sit and chat. You can ask your family or friends to put your children, grandchildren, or pets in your lap so you can feel close to them. Even though you need to be careful of your chest wound, you should continue to be affectionate with your family and friends. Affection can improve your mood and make you feel less lonely.

If you think you might be depressed, talk to your doctor. The sooner you know if you are depressed, the sooner you can get treatment. Treating depression is good for your health. You doctor may refer you to another doctor who diagnoses and treats depression.

Final thoughts

Your recovery at home after CABG surgery can be both physically and emotionally demanding. Knowing what to expect and what you can do to help your recovery can make it easier.

References

Other Works Consulted

  • Hillis LD, et al. 2011 ACCF/AHA Guideline for coronary artery bypass graft surgery: A report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation, 124(23): e652–e735.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Specialist Medical Reviewer John A. McPherson, MD, FACC, FSCAI - Cardiology
Current as of March 12, 2014

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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