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What You Need to Know About Recovering From Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery

Crystal Jo
By Crystal JoAugust 8, 2018

Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting (CABG) is one of the most common types of heart surgery for seniors. There are over 400,000 surgeries done each year. The majority of seniors don’t know, however, what the best tips are for getting active after surgery and managing pain.

Learn more about what you need to know about recovering from a coronary artery bypass surgery.

Coronary Artery Disease

A healthy heart is essential to an active lifestyle. According to the John Hopkins’ Medicine Health Library over 15 million U.S. adults have coronary heart disease.

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Heart disease is one of the top health problems in North America and the number one cause of death in both senior men and women.

Coronary artery disease – or coronary heart disease – is the build-up of sticky plaque in the heart arteries. The flow of blood to the heart gets blocked and the slow blood flow can result in a heart attack.

Typically you will notice symptoms like:

  • Chest Pain
  • Fatigue
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath

The good news is that you can change your lifestyle to reduce your risk of a heart attack.

Your doctor may recommend a coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) to improve the blood flow to your heart. CABG is a surgical procedure where a healthy artery or vein from the leg is moved (or grafted) into your heart. This creates a new pathway for the blood to flow in your heart. Blood gets to “bypass” the blocked arteries.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute states that recovery is typically excellent following a CABG. Surgery will usually relieve the pain and symptoms of chest pain for as long as 10-15 years. CABG can also reduce your chance of having a heart attack and help you enjoy a more active lifestyle.

How to Manage Pain After a Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery

Surgery hurts. That’s the hard truth. You will be in a significant amount of discomfort for the first three days after your surgery. You will most likely spend up to two days in the intensive care unit. Followed by three to five days on a surgical unit in the hospital.

In the hospital, your pain will be managed by medication given through your intravenous line (IV). But once you are moving again, you will be given pain medication to take by mouth.

It is important to stay on top of your pain. Following surgery, you will feel like you fell down the stairs. Your muscles hurt, your throat is sore and you will have pain both in your chest and your leg (where the artery was removed to use for the bypass).

Take your pain medication as prescribed by your doctor. This helps you to feel more comfortable. You will sleep better which speeds up your healing.

You will also be able to get up and move more which prevents blood clots and pneumonia.

What to Do After a Hospital Discharge

Most likely you will be discharged home from the hospital after a week.

Once you are home you will need to:

  • Get good sleep
  • Get moving, but not too fast
  • Go to all your follow up appointments
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Take care of your incisions
  • Take your prescribed medications
  • Watch for signs of blood clots or infections

A few days after your surgery you will be up and walking again. Walking is the most important exercise to continue to do, but take it slow. Gradually add more activity as you get the okay from your doctor.

Exercise Physiologist, Dr. Bill Sukala, has experience in cardiac rehabilitation and offers these precautions on his website:

  1. Be careful when lifting your arms over your head. The incision in your chest will need time to heal before you lift anything heavy.
  2. Do not do any heavy lifting in the first six weeks. This means you don’t move anything heavier than 5-10 pounds.
  3. You will only be able to do light housekeeping for the first six weeks such as washing dishes and dusting.
  4. You will usually not be able to drive for 3-5 weeks.
  5. You may be back to work within six weeks.

What You Will Need Help With After a Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery

CABG is a common and highly successful type of heart surgery, but it can be very stressful for your body.

Having help from family and friends and having a plan in place is the best thing you can do to have a successful recovery.

When you first get home you will need help with:

  • Dressing and showering
  • Grocery shopping
  • Housekeeping
  • Laundry
  • Managing your medications (filling prescriptions and keeping track of what you are taking)
  • Monitoring the incision
  • Preparing meals
  • Transportation to appointments

After you are discharged, you may have difficulty remembering what needs to be done and may feel groggy. You will need to have family, friends or someone you trust there to take care of you. You can also look into hiring an in-home caregiver to assist you with your personal care, meals, medication and transportation.

You will be more comfortable going into a coronary artery bypass surgery if you have a good plan in place for your care after. Then you can focus on the important job of healing.

Have you, a parent or senior loved one had a recent coronary artery bypass surgery? What was the best thing you did to prepare for heart surgery? We’d like to hear your suggestions in the comments below.

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Crystal Jo
Crystal Jo
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