Hospital stays are getting shorter. Today, most open-heart patients will be in the hospital from five to seven days. And for other less invasive surgeries, many patients will be home in five or fewer days.
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Age is not the major factor that determines how well a patient will do following heart surgery – recovery is tied to overall health and state of mind. Prior to surgery, doctors encourage patients to prepare by conditioning—and every little bit helps. Patients can prepare by eating healthy and attaining a good weight, exercising according to their ability, quitting smoking and getting enough rest.
Patients should expect to feel tired for the first couple of weeks following any heart procedure. The heart recovers and gets stronger within these first few weeks. It is important that patients watch their weight and heart rate during this time. Increasing weight can be a sign of retaining fluid and may mean the patient needs an increased dose of diuretic medicine. Patients are encouraged to eat a heart healthy diet with plenty of protein to help in the healing process.
Walking is the best exercise and is encouraged immediately after the surgery to facilitate the healing process. By the third week, heart surgery patients should begin to feel their energy improving. Contrary to what many have heard, the only limitations on activity have to do with healing the chest incision – heavy lifting, golf, baseball and bowling have to wait for six weeks after the operation, at which time patients can return to full activity. Cardiac Rehab is a great program to get patients started on their way to an active lifestyle.
Some patients will have a prolonged healing process based on other health conditions. Cleveland Clinic has developed an online tool to help predict which patients might need more than the usual help with their recovery, such as a stay at a rehab facility. With this information, patients and their families can prepare in advance for what their recovery might look like.
Dr. Johnston says the goal of the heart surgeon is to fix the heart problem with as little interruption to a patient’s life as possible. With the right preparation, heart surgery should be the first step on the way to a patient achieving the kind of life he or she wants.