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what to expect open heart surgery

What to expect when you get open heart surgery

Open heart surgery is no small procedure, which is why it's important to understand what to expect throughout the entirety of the process. Any unnerving experience can be made a little more comfortable by arming yourself with information. Let's get to arming! 

What is the procedure for open heart surgery?

When having open heart surgery, the patient's chest and breast bone will be cut open with an approximately 10 inch incision. This will expose the heart to give your surgeon access to your hear to perform the specific necessary procedure. 

During the procedure the patient will be placed under general anesthesia

Why do people need open heart surgery?

Open heart surgery, also referred to as traditional heart surgery, can be required for a number of reasons. Some of the most common reasons a patient might undergo open heart surgery include: 

  • Coronary heart disease is causing a need for a coronary artery bypass graft or CABG
  • A medical device such as a pacemaker needs implanted to help the heart beat normally 
  • There are abnormal or damaged areas of the heart that need repaired 
  • A patient's heart valves need repaired or replaced to allow blood to flow properly 
  • A heart transplant is taking place to give a patient a new heart 

How to prepare for open heart surgery 

Leading up to open heart surgery, it's recommended that patients take a few pre-operative measures to ensure their recovery time is comfortable and safe. A few tips include: 

  • Stop smoking and drinking at least 2 weeks prior to surgery 
  • Eat a healthy, nutrient diet and maintain activity levels at your doctor's discretion
  • Get a list of friends and family members who will be available to help out during your recovery period  
  • Stock up on comfortable clothing and recovery garments to wear during recovery 
  • Have healthy meals lined up while you heal so you don't have to cook. Or ask some helpful friends to stop by and have a meal with you!
  • Find some shows, movies, and books that you're excited to catch up on to keep you entertained during your recovery 


Recovery time from open heart surgery 

Depending on the type of surgery you have, it's likely that you'll remain in the hospital (possibly in intensive care) for several days. 

After that time, the bulk of your recovery will take place in the following 2 months. During this period it's important to attend cardiac rehabilitation and gradually increase your activity levels. Listen to your body and your doctor when working to increase your activity levels; the last thing you want is to push yourself too hard. 

After the first two months of recovery when you'll see the majority of your healing progress, it can take up to a year to fully recover, according to the Cleveland Clinic. During this time it's important to have a healthy diet and to continue to increase activity levels until you're back to 100%. 

Risks of open heart surgery 

As with any surgical procedure, there are risks associated with having open heart surgery. Some risks include:

  • blood clots 
  • infection (possible infection of the chest wound)
  • heart arrhythmia
  • heart attack or stroke
  • pneumonia 
  • chest pain 

 For additional questions and information related to your specific procedure, consult with your healthcare provider. 

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